A few days after Christmas, Susan Cooper was standing at the large window in her living room that looks east over a bend in the Little Arkansas River, getting ready to take down her Christmas tree – a concolor fir that she’d bought at Johnson’s Garden Center.
She’d long wanted a concolor fir, because they have large spaces between the branches for showcasing ornaments, but this is the first year she found one that looked good all the way around – a feature she needs because the tree is seen out that great window as well as from inside the house.
Susan had been observant of the tree, and had noticed that there hadn’t been any needles to speak of that had fallen off during the holiday season, even though the tree had been up since the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Then, as she started removing the ornaments, Susan looked closer and saw something wonderfully startling.
“I said, ‘Holy cow, there’s some new needles, light green colored, on the end of the branch here.’
“Then I started looking all around the tree, and there was one here and one here.” Susan thrilled at the sight of new growth that she hadn’t expected to see until spring. How could it be? “I couldn’t bear to take the tree down,” she said, and she carted off the storage tubs that hold the ornaments.
Could it be another Christmas miracle?
It turns out that there is an explanation for the phenomenon – but I’m not sure that makes it any less wonderful.
“It might be trying to put on growth from the food reserves in the trunk,” extension agent Bob Neier said, noting that concolor firs hold their needles as well as any other tree. But since the tree has no roots, once the reserves are used up, the tree will start dying.
John Firsching of Hillside Nursery, which gets its concolor firs from the tree lines of New Mexico (the concolor’s curved needles are indicative of their high altitude, he says), hears from customers every year who note the fresh growth on their concolor trees.
“They hold the moisture real well,” he said. Hillside has even grown some concolors here – one for as long as 18 years – but as you may imagine, they don’t like the heat and eventually die in a severe summer, even with roots.
But for people who like a long-lasting Christmas tree, the concolor is probably the best bet. Paul Cook of Johnson’s doesn’t recommend it, but he says some people skip the tree stand and the water in the reservoir and simply attach their cut concolor firs to a wooden base. Susan also has a neat trick for her cut Christmas tree: She puts it in a bucket of sand that she keeps wet. The bucket is initially only partially filled with sand until the tree is centered, and then more wet sand is added to secure the tree in place.
Johnson’s keeps its leftover concolors to use in its garden displays at the garden show the first weekend of March – and they will still look good then, Paul says.
Susan eventually removed the ornaments from her concolor and has moved the tree out of the window (it was blocking her view) to an adjacent corner, the bucket covered with a silky green cloth. A few branches are starting to dry out, but Susan also sees some fresh sprouts at the top of the tree, where the star would be.
“I want to believe it’s growing,” she said. “And since it keeps on doing it, I have to keep on keeping it. It’s like a part of the family now.”
The rootless concolor’s ability to put on new growth from its reserves gives us a window into how the trees in our landscapes work. Even when a tree’s roots or bark is damaged, it may put out new growth in the spring, only declining and dying later. It may sadly be what we continue to witness this spring and summer as the drought continues – and trees’ reserves are finally tapped.
Susan will keep us posted on her Christmas tree’s status. Once she decides it’s losing too many needles, she’ll make a home for it outside in the landscape as long as it looks good. After all, it will be much too late for the county’s Christmas tree recycling, which ends Wednesday.
For her $89 purchase, I’m thinking Susan got a terrific deal on a Christmas tree that has gone on to become a wintertime annual.