How to Delay Christmas Tree Needle Loss

Every one having a real Christmas tree at home, would want to keep it fresh and green for as long as possible, and, most of all, avoid having needles all over the house.

Researchers at Université Laval, along with Nova Scotia Agricultural College, have a very good news for Christmas enthusiasts: they have discovered what causes Christmas tree needles to drop off, and they also figured out a way of doubling their lifespan.

Steeve Pépin, co-author of the study and professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at Université Laval, along with Mason MacDonald, Rajasekaran Lada, and Alex Martynenko (Nova Scotia Agricultural College), and Martine Dorais and Yves Desjardins (Université Laval), have discovered a plant hormone called ethylene, that is responsible for needle loss in balsam fir.

They came to this discovery by placing fir branches in water containers inside a growth chamber.

Ten days later, the branches started producing ethylene, and another three days after, the needles began to fall.

After 40 days, the branches had no needles left on them.

The researchers used 1-MCP and AVG – two chemical compounds that interfere with ethylene, to test whether this was the actual cause of needle loss.

Once the needles have been exposed to these substances, their lifespan increased to 73 and 87 days.

Steeve Pépin explains that “by Day 40, the branches that had been treated were still green, tender, and fresh-looking, while the untreated branches had lost virtually all their needles.”

This is a very important discovery, both for Christmas tree producers and for customers, as well as for the export market.

First of all, “since 1-MCP is a gas, it would be feasible to release it into the trucks used to ship the trees,” Pépin said.

According to statistics, in 2008, Christmas tree sales surpassed $65 million in Canada, and half of the sales came from the exportation of some 1.8 million trees to the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

As said before, the consumers could also benefit from the finding, because they could add AVG in the water of the tree stand, and prolong the tree’s lifespan indoors.

Steeve Pépin mentioned that it is very encouraging that “we managed to double the needle retention period of the branches,” but noted that “we still have to prove that we can transpose these findings to the entire tree.”

The findings were presented in a recent issue of the scientific journal Trees.

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