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How to Find the Absolute Best Christmas Tree This Holiday Season

Published On 12/02/2016 Published On 12/02/2016

As every Christmas movie in existence makes abundantly clear, Christmas just doesn't feel like Christmas unless you've got a festive Christmas tree. Even Charlie Brown gets one by the end. But for those of us who celebrate, a Christmas tree hunt can get tiresome, filled with logistical headaches like "Will this fit in my car?" Or "Will I piss everyone off on the train tonight when I bring it back home?" Or, most often: "Is this the type of Christmas tree I really want in my home for the next month?"

So we've broken down a few facts about the three most popular Christmas tree types in the United States for your benefit. These are our old pals Douglas, Balsam, and Fraser, from the fir family. You can't go wrong with any of these fragrant flora, but here's what sets them apart.

Fraser fir trees | D. Lindbo for Soil Science/Flickr

Fraser fir

Abies fraseri

The most popular Christmas tree species in the country these days, the Fraser fir is actually a subspecies of the balsam fir, though they don't grow in the same places. Fraser firs grow naturally in high altitudes in the southeastern Appalachian Mountains parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Since the '60s, it's been the species of tree most often used as the indoor White House Christmas tree, with a Fraser fir chosen from a Pennsylvania tree farm last year. It sports soft, short needles, and is known for staying fresh and fragrant throughout the season. The first Frasers to be sold as Christmas trees came from a loan made by the U.S. Forest Service in the '50s for trees on Roan Mountain in North Carolina. Growers today call it "the Cadillac of Christmas trees."

A Balsam fir tree | Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr

Balsam fir

Abies balsamea

Fraser firs may be fantastic trees, but Balsam fir trees are the O.G. Christmas tree for a few reasons. They're a lot more naturally widespread -- occurring in the northeastern U.S. from Minnesota to Maine, as well as a lot more territory in eastern and central Canada. Their needles sport two colors on top and bottom, adding shades of silver to your dark green Christmas tree. And in the past, Balsam firs and white pines were the only trees whose branches could accommodate candles. One drawback: The branches are a bit more flexible than the Fraser firs, so keep the ornaments light. Luckily, they retain their splendor, fragrance, and needles arguably just as well.

Douglas fir | RVWithTito.com/Flickr

Douglas fir

Pseudotsuga menziesii

This year the White House chose a Douglas fir to festoon the Obamas' final Christmas in the Executive Mansion, and for good reason: Douglas firs are gorgeous, equipped with soft needles that radiate out from the branches in all directions, and emit a sweeter scent if you crush them. The Douglas fir is native to western North America, occurring from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon, and California, parts of the Rockies and as far south as Yosemite. It's been one of the most common Christmas trees of the Pacific Northwest since the '20s and also exports to Hawaii, Guam, and other territories. Despite its name, it isn't a member of the genus Abies, and isn't a true fir at all. It's still a beautiful tree, and a favorite across the country.

A few Christmas tree care tips...

  • Look for the freshest tree: It's always best to purchase a freshly cut tree (or cut your own if you can). Ask the salesperson when they were cut. 
  • To check, pull the branch toward you: If the needles fall off, it's not very fresh.
  • Once you buy a tree, saw off the base: Doing this will open up the trees pores, which were sealed when it was first cut.
  • Setting it in water is the most important part: You want the leaves and the branches to stay vibrant as possible all season. A tree can consume as gallon of water every 24 hours.
  • Don't burn the house down: Keep the tree clear of any heat sources; it'll keep the tree healthy and keep you alive.

Of course, you could always skip it altogether and get an artificial tree. Preferably a Charlie Brown tree. Or a Festivus Pole. No judgment. Merry Christmas!

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Eric Vilas-Boas adores Christmas, but is a real Grinch the rest of the year. Follow him @e_vb_.

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