KEY POINTS

  • Denmark is Europe's biggest producer of Christmas trees
  • Germany is Denmark's biggest customer for Christmas trees
  • Danes want to cultivate the noble fir tree more since it grows in a milder climate

A warming climate in Denmark could make it possible for Danish Christmas tree producers to cultivate the noble fir along with the Nordmann fir, which has been the most popular model of holiday trees in the country for decades.

The noble fir, which originated in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., is not susceptible to many diseases and insects, so it can be grown without the use of pesticides. It also does not require a lot of fertilizer, meaning it has great potential as a sustainable Christmas tree in the coming years.

“Noble fir is a coveted Christmas tree throughout Europe,” said Ulrik Bräuner Nielsen, a senior researcher at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management of the University of Copenhagen. “However, it has been tricky to grow as the buds and tops are highly susceptible to damage from frost and cold weather. As such, the species has largely been used for ornamental garnish only. The somewhat milder climate that we have experienced in recent years, along with improved cultivation techniques, has made it easier to produce these beautiful trees.”

Nielsen added the noble fir has an “unparalleled ability to survive when cut” and “it doesn’t drop needles” which makes it easy for homeowners to manage.

Denmark is already one of the world’s largest exporters of Christmas trees, and the largest such exporter in Europe with about $148 million in annual sales. In 2018, 43% of Danish trees were exported to Germany, followed by France at 11%. Netherlands and the U.K. are also major customers. Danish trees also are sold in such unlikely faraway places as Morocco, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

On the whole, Denmark produces about 12 million Christmas trees annually and exports about 10 million. In comparison, the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. produced about 4.8 million trees, the bulk of them in Oregon, in 2017, with total sales value of about $140 million.

Demark has about 2,500 growers of Christmas trees. The industry employs some 2,000 full-time workers although during the busiest period from mid-November to mid-December, about 5,000 people work in the sector.

Developing these noble fir trees for the Christmas market will take up to 12 years.

One of Denmark’s most prominent tree growers is Bernt Johan Collet of the Lundbygaard Estate which produces about 600,000 trees each year.

“When you decide to grow Christmas trees, you need to appreciate that it’s a slow process,” Collet said. “It takes four years from sowing the seeds to being able to plant them, and a further eight years for the tree to reach the right size. My friends in the business sector shake their heads when they hear that you have to wait 12 years before you get a return on your investment.”

Collet added Denmark is better suited to grow Christmas trees because its coastal climate is quite mild, unlike the rest of Scandinavia, which is often too cold.

Indeed, some 75% of Christmas trees that are sold in neighboring Norway come from Denmark.

“Danish farmers have traditionally been good at spotting opportunities,” he noted. “We’re a small country and have to think creatively to exploit what we have.”

In Denmark, most Christmas trees are grown on farms not harvested in forests – farming subsidies made this more feasible than in Norway or Sweden, which have much larger forests.

Meanwhile, China, which neither celebrates Christmas nor grows Christmas trees, has become the world’s largest producer of artificial and plastic yuletide trees and decorations. In the Chinese city of Yiwu about 1,000 firms manufacture plastic Christmas goods, accounting for 60% of global production.