One of the season’s most popular Christmas trees may be in short supply this season because of a fungus that is killing off much of the country’s stock.
About 30 million trees are sold in North America each year for the holiday, fueling the $1 billion tree farm industry. One of the most popular trees is the Fraser Fir, due to its sturdy branches and low needle loss once cut. However, a fungus found in the soil, known as Phytophthora, has infected much of the nation’s stock.
The fungus was inadvertently introduced into U.S. soils more than a hundred years ago from Asia. When found in significant concentrations, as it is in North Carolina where the majority of the nation’s tree farms are located, it can affect the plants. Most can survive the infection, but the Fraser Fir is particularly vulnerable. The fungus attacks the roots, browning out the needles and killing the trees in a matter of months, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Once in the soil, the fungus can live there indefinitely, destroying the possibility of growing trees in that field for years to come.
As a result, Fraser Firs will be more difficult to find on tree lots that import their stock from other states. Fraser Firs don’t grow well in Ohio soils because the soil is not acidic enough. That’s good news for local farms like Carl & Dorothy’s Christmas Tree Farm at Young’s Jersey Dairy.
“I’ve never heard of anyone having this problem in Ohio, and I’m sure any tree that is infected with it, you can see it immediately,” said owner Carl Young.
Since the fungus causes trees to brown out almost immediately, Young said any tree that is green when you buy it should be fine. A popular alternative to the Fraser Fir is the Douglas Fir, which is not susceptible to the fungus, he said.
The average price for a tree is $40 and that price is not expected to spike due to the fungus and subsequent tree shortage. However, Young suggested shoppers get their trees soon so as not to be caught without one to decorate because some lots will have less stock this year.
There are 25,000 trees at the Young’s farm, which buyers can select and cut down on their own.
“Come on down,” Young said.