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The History and Lore Behind the Christmas Tree

For centuries greenery such as evergreen trees and plants have brightened homes during dark winter months as a symbol of hope and renewal. History and lore describe the use of conifers as decoration beginning in Germany during the middle ages, with wider use since the Victorian Era.

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

A group of mostly evergreen, cone-bearing trees and shrubs, there are 588 species of conifers, with interesting shapes, colors, heights, and textures that produce unique needle or scale-like leaves.

A few interesting notes about conifers: Conifers include the Pine family with at least 240 species from 11 genera including Spruce, Fir, Pine, Cedar, and Larch. Pines have leaves that are in round and occur in bundles of one-to-five needles. Spruce and Fir needles are not bundled, but single and each needle has hard, flat, or squared edges rather than rounded spike-like needles. Spruce cones hang from the branch downward (image 2). Young Fir cones sit on the branch and point upward.

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

Photo from Oregon State University

 

Although most conifers are evergreen, Larches shed their leaves annually. The Siberian Larch is the most numerous and widest spread of all trees. Bristlecone Pine is one of the oldest trees in the world, aging thousands of years. Other types of conifers include the Cypress family with 141 species like the Giant Sequoia, the largest trees, the Coastal Redwood, known as the tallest tress, and the Juniper, of which Utah is home to the world’s oldest Rocky Mountain Juniper. This family of conifers have flat, scaly sprays rather than needle-like leaves. The Podocarp family has 156 species dominating the southern hemisphere with tropical varieties. Other taxa include Araucaria, Umbrella Pine, and Yew. As you can see, conifers are as interesting as they are varied.

The best-selling conifers as indoor winter décor are: Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir (images 4 and 5 ), Balsam Fir, and White Pine.

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

 

Where can you see a wide variety of conifer trees? At Red Butte Garden, Utah’s botanical garden and arboretum, located in the foothills near the University of Utah. Recognized by the American Conifer Society as a reference garden, Red Butte Garden has an extensive conifer collection highlighting six families, 22 genera, and accessions representing 230 different taxa. Winter is a great season to see these magnificent trees.

Notable conifers in the Garden are: the deer topiary at the entry to the Children’s Garden shaped from a Juniper (image 6), mature Bristlecone Pines line the path west of the Children’s Garden (7), a Larch demonstrating fall shedding(8) and a Japanese Red Pine (9)with two-toned needles can be found in the Rose Garden.

Enjoy free admission December 2 and 3 to Red Butte Garden thanks to the voters of Salt Lake County and Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP). December 2 and 3 enjoy the Holiday Open House with local artists and 10 to 20% off in the Garden Gift Shop.

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

Photo provided by: Red Butte Gardens

  1. By German illustrator Marie “Mizi” Wunsch (1862-1898)
  2. Spruce cones Red Butte Garden
  3. Fir cones Red Butte Garden
  4. Fraser Fir image from amazon.com
  5. Christmas tree farm web image
  6. Deer Topiary, Red Butte Garden
  7. Japanese Red Pine, Red Butte Garden
  8. Larch with Cream Puff Cedar and the tip of the Red Pine Red Butte Garden
  9. Bristlecone pine, photos: Red Butte Garden
Andrea Peterson :