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Warning: Widespread Toe-Stomping Ahead!

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, How toxic are thy branches?”

The following article really is not a rant from the organic Grinch, though it certainly might sound like it. Instead, it is intended merely as a thought-provoking stimulus.

But before we look at your Christmas tree together, let’s go out into the woods and fields for a moment. Here we find some orange-clad outdoor enthusiasts. After meeting up with them, we join them in dragging a bloody, gutted carcass out of the woods to be loaded on their vehicle. It’s a twelve-pointer!

But before loading it into the truck, out comes not a cell phone, but a high-end camera for some careful mug shots.

“What is that?” we ask. “Come see,” is the response. After a short drive, we have reached the “man-cave.” As we enter, we are not surprised to see it full of mounts of all types. However, when we look closer, we see that each mount is a plastic and polyester replica. “The real fur and antlers attract too many bugs,” is the surprising explanation.

“Hey, come see our Christmas tree,” they offer. We climb the stairs to the family room, and see the most beautifully decorated tannenbaum ... electronically projected onto the wall. Next to it is an electronic spruce-scented infuser. “No needles; no set-up; no clean-up; all the smell of the season!” is the surprising explanation.

The point I am belaboring is that our current culture has taken a practice that began as a nature outreach — going out to the woods and bringing the green indoors as the promise of life amid winter’s death — we have taken that fundamentally natural custom and industrialized it, so that we can conveniently remember the feelings evoked by that natural custom of yesteryear.

How can we bring nature back? The following are some gradual steps. First, ditch the plastic tree. I know some argue that if an artificial tree is used for ten to twenty years it is greener than a natural tree, but simple common sense would disagree.

And if that is not enough, Brian Lambert of The Garland Co. shows that artificial Christmas trees do not meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification standards for at least two reasons: 1) They have to be shipped here from China, and 2) They are not made from “rapidly renewable content”. This says nothing about the toxicity of the PVC out of which they are made.

Second, bring nature back by buying an organic tree. For our natural custom, why should we go to a farm that chemically kills weeds and insects in order to grow thousands of trees that are not native to our area?

Third, use a tree that you can plant in spring. I did this for customers long ago, and despite deer and drought, the trees have thrived.

Reach me at

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.

In the photo above: Nolan and Hudson Mosher and William Arp carry a tree they cut at Spring Hills Farm, an organic Christmas tree grower in Dalton.