December 6, 2011

Christmas Trees: The difference between Spruces and Firs


Posted by Kristin

Now that December is officially here, many of us are prepping to buy our annaul Christmas tree, if we haven't bought it already. This is a tradition I look forward to every year, from choosing the best tree to hanging to last ornament. When going to a tree farm or lot to buy a tree, you're often confronted with many different choices for a tree. From my experience of Christmas tree shopping in New England, the top two types (or species of you are a horticultural weirdo nut like I am) are Firs and Spruces. More specifically, you'll most likely find these beauties:

Balsam Fir

Fraser Fir

Colorado Blue Spruce

Norway Spruce

For descriptions on each of the trees, check out this helpful site.

Often, when you're out in the lot, you may not know exactly what tree you're looking out. But I've got my own little way to tell the difference between a Spruce and Fir. It goes like this: "Spiny Spruce" and "Friendly Fir". Now before you starting scratching your head too hard, let me explain.  Way back in the 90's (geesh- where did time go?), I was little rugrat on vacation at Sugarloaf Ski Area in Maine.

Above tree-line skiing and riding on the east coast? Yup, this place has got the goods! image via
One day during our vacation, my mom, sister Catie, and I went on a guided snow shoe tour along some wooded trails. Our guide, the strapping Maine woodsman that he was (I really don't recall what he looked like but I just have red flannel, Carharts and suspenders in my mind), told us lots of nuggests of information along the way but there's one nugget that has stuck with Catie and I since then: Spiney Spruce and Friendly Fir.  He taught us that by feeling the individual needles of the trees you can distinguish which is which. Spruces have a spiney, or more rouded, needle shape all the way around. Firs have flat needles and are therefore smoother, or friendlier-feeling, to your fingers.

And now for some visual aids.

Below are the needles of a Fraser Fir. They are smooth and flat and smelly really yummy!The needles on Fir branches also tend to be flatter over all, with a distinct bottom and top side.


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These guys are the needles from a Norway Spruce. Still fragrant but much more rounded in shape. Spruce needles tend to go around the entire branch and don't have a distinct top and bottom side, unlike their Fir counterparts above.

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Here's a shot of our handiwork after lots of light stringing and ornament hanging (while watching one of the best newer Christmas movies, Love Actually):

This Balsam Fir smells like Christmas!


What are your holiday traditions? Do tend to go with a Spiny Spruce or Friendly Fir?

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