Looking for a real, live Christmas tree this year?
Every Yukon household is entitled to harvest two Christmas trees every year, no permits or other permission required. And with about 28.1 million hectares of the Yukon covered in boreal forest — that’s close to 60 per cent of the territory’s area — there are plenty of fine, prickly candidates to choose from.
Members of the pine and fir families are both good choices, according to Robin Sharples, a research forester with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, and Bruce Bennett, coordinator of Environment Yukon’s conservation data centre.
While there’s nothing wrong with taking home a, say, lodgepole pine, which Bennett said people in Dawson City are particularly fond of doing, its spaced-out branches and usually slight lean to one side or another may remind some of Charlie Brown’s unfortunate sapling.
“Subalpine fir just makes a nicer, cheerier Christmas tree,” Sharples said.
The reason the subalpine fir is the Yukon’s official tree can even be traced back to the outstanding job it does as a Yuletide shrub. As Bennett tells it, back when the Yukon was trying to pick its territorial tree, he had to write the descriptions for the four contenders, and the only thing he could come up with for the subalpine fir was that it made a good Christmas tree.
That didn’t earn it much regard from adults, who were rooting hard for the aspen; however, when children got in on the competition, the vote suddenly swung overwhelmingly in favour of the subalpine fir.
Adding to the subalpine fir’s impressive portfolio is the fact that it’s one of the few trees that can move.
“A subalpine fir, the actual stem can be a certain age, but its branches touch the ground and they root, it’s called layering, and so you end up with these clusters,” Bennett explained. “And if you photographed subalpine fir and you took a photograph of it (year after year), you would see the subalpine fir, the same tree, moving upslope in the wind because it tips over, it roots, it grows. It’s still the same tree, because it’s all originated from a seed, but it’s moving up the slope. So trees like that can live hundreds, thousands of years.”
And in case you weren’t sold on it yet, the fir boasts yet another benefit in that, despite being covered in needles, it’s not very prickly, unlike another coniferous tree floating around the North — the spruce.
“The best way to tell a spruce for a fir is to go and hug on in your shorts, because if you go, ‘Ouch,’ you know it’s a spruce,” Bennett said, adding that the needles are typically short and can be rolled between your fingers, unlike a pine’s flat needles. Each spruce needle also grows on its own, unlike a pine’s, which usually grow in pairs.
Besides being unpleasant to hug, spruces also come with two other major disadvantages — unlike pines or firs, they start shedding needles basically as soon as they’re cut, even if they’re watered, and, according to some, they give off a smell that resembles cat pee.
Regardless of which tree catches your eye, Sharples said there are a few things to keep in mind when harvesting: make sure it’s growing in an open, public area (i.e. don’t nab one from your neighbour’s backyard), and make sure you take the whole tree with you (don’t cut down a really tall tree and just lop off the top; try and find a full tree that fits your needs).
And when you get it home, keep it watered, because that not only keeps your tree alive and healthy-looking through the season, but also guards against it becoming a fire hazard.
Maps on where Yukoners can harvest Christmas trees are available online at emr.gov.yk.ca/forestry
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org