Selecting the perfect Christmas tree: Tree types

As the holidays draw near, here is a guide to help you select the right Michigan-grown tree for your home.

As many people know, Michigan is one of the leading Christmas tree-producing states in the United States. Michigan consistently ranks third in the country in the number trees harvested each year. In addition, Michigan’s climate and soils allow our Christmas tree growers to produce a wider variety of trees than almost any other state. So whether you look for a pre-cut tree at a local tree lot or bundle up the family for the choose-and-cut experience, you will find a wide array of tree types that offer something for everyone. Michigan State University Extension has put together a brief guide to the main types of trees grown in Michigan.

The mainstays

These traditional Christmas tree species can be found at nearly every tree lot or choose-and-cut farm.

Fraser fir has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years for good reason. Fraser fir has blue-green needles with silvery undersides. The branches are stiff and hold up well to ornaments. The trees have a pleasant scent and needle retention is excellent. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s Fraser fir Youtube video.

Fraser fir
Fraser fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Scots pine has long been the traditional choice for many Michigan families. Scots pines are dense trees with dark-green needles. Stiff branches hold up well to ornaments and needle retention is excellent. Scots pine is also an economical choice. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s Scots pine YouTube video.

Scots pine
Scots pine. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Douglas fir is a dense tree with light green needles. The needles are very soft. The branches are not as stiff as some other species, so you’ll need to stick with lighter-weight ornaments. This is also another good choice for budget-conscious consumers. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s Douglas fir YouTube video.

Douglas fir
Douglas fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Blue spruce is a popular choice because of its bright blue needles. Branches are stiff to hold ornaments. Needles are extremely sharp, which can make the tree difficult to handle, but good for keeping small children and pets at bay. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s blue spruce YouTube video.

Blue spruce
Blue spruce. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Black hills spruce are known for their traditional appearance. The needles are shorter and softer than Colorado blue spruce. Black hills spruce needles have excellent color, typically a gray-ish green to bluish-green. Branches are stiff and hold up well to ornaments.

Black hills spruce
Black hills spruce. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Additional choices

Here are some great but lesser-known trees than many Michigan tree farms are growing.

Concolor fir has long, bluish-green needles. The needle color provides the initial attraction, but the big draw for this species is the strong, citrus-like scent of its needles. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s concolor fir YouTube video.

Concolor fir
Concolor fir. Photo credit: Rick Bates

White pine is a large, fast growing tree. It is also one of two Michigan native conifers commonly used for Christmas trees – balsam fir is the other. This is a dense tree with soft, green needles. This is an economical choice, especially for consumers looking for a large tree. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s white pine YouTube video.

White pine
White pine. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Korean fir has dark green needles with silvery undersides. This is an exotic conifer that is increasing in popularity. Nice form and a unique texture add to this species’ appeal. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s Korean fir Youtube video.

Korean fir
Korean fir. Photo credit: Lou Waldock

Balsam fir is a traditional Christmas tree species in much of the United States. It has dark green needles and a strong characteristic Christmas tree scent.

Balsam fir
Balsam fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

Canaan fir is closely related to Fraser fir and balsam and is often described as a hybrid between those species. It’s not, but it does combine many of the characteristics of balsam fir with the improved needle retention of Fraser fir. For more pictures and information on this species, see MSU‘s Canaan fir Youtube video.

Canaan fir
Canaan fir. Photo credit: Bert Cregg and Jill O’Donnell, MSU

For more information on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree, see the following MSU Extension articles:

Dr. Cregg’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.