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needle points

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, Your gay green dress delights us!

Sometimes that gay green dress is blue-green, or silvery green, or some people even have their trees flocked - sprayed with white stuff to look like snow. No matter. We love our Christmas trees. Last year we bought 32.8-million of them.

Trees are a discretionary purchase, yet everybody wants one. If the economy is bad, someone might spend $30 on a modest-size tree. In good times that same consumer might happily spend $65 on a premium tree. Last year the mean price paid for a tree was $41.60.

As you head out to claim your tree this weekend, consider your family's needs. Little ones might do better with a tree with soft needles rather than sharp, prickly ones. Allergy sufferers might prefer a tree with little aroma.

Then delight in that gay green dress.

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or stark@sptimes.com.

Images courtesy of National Christmas Tree Association. Information from NCTA adn other Web sites.

Sand pine

Why we like it: A popular Florida-grown tree, it does well in sandy, well-drained soil. Dark green, flexible needles, straight trunks. Seeds may be eaten raw or roasted and young needles can be made into tea. Inner bark can be ground into flour.

Where it grows: Florida and Alabama.

Other uses: Pulpwood or fuel.

Balsam fir

Why we like it: Pleasing shape, dark-green appearance, long-lasting needles, fragrance.

Where it grows: Cool northern climates.

Other uses: Aromatic balsam boughs are used to stuff "pine pillows." During the Civil War a balm of balsam fir resin was applied to combat injuries. Wood is used for pulp, knotty-pine paneling and crates. Resin is used for microscope slides.

Blue spruce

Why we like it: Symmetrical shape, good needle retention. Dull bluish-gray to silvery-blue needles; some varieties have bluish-white or silvery-white foliage. Needles are very sharp. Popular as a "living" Christmas tree to be planted after the holidays.

Where it grows: Arizona to Wyoming.

Other uses: Posts, poles, fuel. Wood is knotty. Provides cover and seeds for squirrels, birds.

Noble fir

Why we like it: Beautifully proportioned and long-lived, with silvery bluish-green needles and large, heavy cones. Stiff branches hold heavy ornaments. Noble firs represent up to 30 percent of the fresh tree market in the Pacific Northwest.

Where it grows: California, Oregon, Washington.

Other uses: Widely used in the greenery business for wreaths, swags and other holiday decorations. Wood is used for siding, paneling, doors. RAF Mosquito planes of World War II were built with noble fir frames.

Virginia pine

Why we like it: Long-lasting; holds its needles, which are uniquely twisted. Strong branches can hold heavy ornaments. Clean, pleasant pine scent; dark-green color. For decades this tree was the mainstay of the southern Christmas tree industry.

Where it grows: Pennsylvania to Florida, west to Texas.

Other uses: Also known as the scrub pine or Jersey pine, the tree has been used in strip-mine reclamation and as pulpwood. Woodpeckers nest in the decaying wood.

Leyland cypress

Why we like it: Straight stems, upward-pointing branches, pleasing shape. Very long-lived, with little needle drop; almost no aroma.

Where it grows: Across the South, including Florida; California. There are no naturally occurring Leyland cypresses. They are sterile hybrids that must be propagated through cuttings. The original hybrid was crossbred by accident in 1888 in Wales.

Other uses: Leyland cypress is a valued landscape plant and windbreak. In New Zealand and Australia it is used for wood products.

Fraser fir

Why we like it: Pyramidal shape; upward-turning branches; dark blue-green needles; pleasant scent; long life.

Where it grows: North Carolina produces the majority of Fraser fir Christmas trees.

Other uses: Soft, brittle timber is used for pulpwood, light framing, knotty-pine paneling, crates. The needles are used for pillow stuffing.

Red cedar

Why we like it: Aromatic foliage changes from blue-green in summer to bronze or purple in winter. Frosted-blue berrylike cones attract wildlife. The tree is a variety of juniper.

Where it grows: Eastern United States.

Other uses: Windbreaks, hedges; posts, lumber, furniture. This tree is also known as the pencil cedar because the wood is used to make pencils.

Spruce pine

Why we like it: Long, slender, dark bluish-green, twisted needles. Light fragrance.

Where it grows: South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida. Prefers wet, shady locations.

Other uses: The brittle wood has little commercial value except as pulpwood. But the trees are valuable nesting sites for birds, and many species eat their seeds.

Arizona cypress

Why we like it: Graceful shape; tiny, abundant needles ranging from pale green to gray-green. The most common type is Carolina Sapphire.

Where it grows: From California and Mexico east across the Gulf Coast to the Carolinas and Florida.

Other uses: The hard, heavy, durable wood is used for fence posts and mine-shaft timbers. Also used as a landscape plant.

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