Christmas Trees with Improved Genetics from NC State Exhibit Accelerated Growth and Improved Needle Durability

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For over 40 years, the Christmas Tree Genetics Program at NC State has been dedicated to cultivating superior Fraser fir trees. These trees, indigenous to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, dominate the state’s Christmas tree market, comprising over 98% of sales.

Fraser Fir: America’s Favorite Christmas Tree

The Fraser fir’s popularity across the United States stems from its aesthetically pleasing symmetrical shape and its lush, dark green needles that feature a silvery underside. In the 1990s, the program undertook a massive evaluation of thousands of Fraser firs to pinpoint those with optimal genetic traits. Out of approximately 30,000 trees, the top 25 were selected for propagation. These elite trees were then planted in a specialized six-acre seed orchard at the Upper Mountain Research Station in 2018.

Genetic Advancements in Growth and Appearance

Under the guidance of Justin Whitehill, the program’s director, the genetically enhanced Fraser firs have shown remarkable growth, averaging about a foot taller than the standard market offerings. “Our genetically-improved trees grew an extra 1-2 inches annually,” explained Whitehill. This accelerated growth rate means that growers may harvest trees within 6-7 years, reducing the typical wait time by up to a year.

Enhanced Needle Retention

Beyond their growth and form, these genetically improved trees boast an impressive ability to retain needles post-harvest. Whitehill notes that the program’s Fraser firs are expected to shed less than 1-2% of their needles, maintaining their beauty even without cooler temperatures.

In summary, NC State’s Christmas Tree Genetics Program has made significant strides in developing Fraser firs that not only grow faster and look better but also maintain their needle retention, setting a new standard for Christmas trees in the market. Follow us on Instagram

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