Holidays and Celebrations

A warming climate is affecting our Christmas trees, too

A hotter environment can make it harder for Christmas fir trees to deal with pests and infection, experts say.

Christmas trees for sale
Michael Probst / AP
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Decking a live fir tree with lights and ornaments is an old Christmas tradition. But like any other crop, Christmas trees are already having to deal with the effects of a changing climate — and those effects may get more obvious in the years ahead.

A warming planet can make it tougher for fir trees to grow. It can give pests and diseases a more optimal environment in which to spread, and it can also affect the temperature and water content of the soil. 

Scientists worry that warmer, wetter soil may more easily harbor certain fungal species that infect fir trees. Evergreens have died in Washington and Oregon in surprising numbers in recent years thanks to fungal outbreaks.

Recent research has also shown that new extremes of heat in soil are sometimes occurring more rapidly than extreme air temperatures.

What should you expect to pay for a Christmas tree this year?
What should you expect to pay for a Christmas tree this year?

What should you expect to pay for a Christmas tree this year?

If you want the fresh Christmas tree scent without any cost, most national forests allow people to cut their own tree, but you'll need a permit.

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The effects and risks of this warming aren't always immediately apparent, but Christmas trees can take 8 to 10 years to reach salable size. Experts think a decade of warming and its effects might eventually make certain trees harder to grow. 

Climate change researchers and Christmas tree breeders have been collaborating to stay ahead of the curve, by testing trees from other climates like the Turkish fir, and tracking fungal outbreaks more closely in hopes of understanding trends.

Scientists have called for more research into relatively underinvestigated soil temperatures, so they can better understand long-term trends and better prepare for a warmer future.