Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving blog 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season for many of us. I know many families go pick out their Christmas Trees on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a great time to do that and it really begins to get you into the Holiday Spirit.

The biggest decoration in size and in use is the Christmas tree. Christmas trees have been used for centuries for many different reasons. According to Alabama Cooperative Extension, Christmas trees are believed to symbolize immortality. The Germanic people used evergreen boughs in their homes during winter for protection of their home and to return life to the snow-covered forest. There have been many different civilizations throughout history that have used evergreens in their homes, decorated or not, to celebrate the holidays, according to the University of Illinois Extension. The ancient Romans used decorated trees during their winter festival to honor their god of agriculture. Trees were sold in Germany in the 1500’s to be put in homes, undecorated.

Christmas Trees came to the United States in 1747, when people in Pennsylvania decorated wooded pyramids with evergreen branches and candles. By 1850, decorated Christmas trees were a widely used tradition in America.  The first retail tree market was in New York in 1851 and the first President of the United States to put up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce in 1856.  The first national Christmas tree was put up in 1923 on the lawn of the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.

There are many different tree species you can choose from for your family’s enjoyment through the Holiday season. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include: Balsam Fir, Douglas-Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White Pine. Before leaving to go pick out your tree, it might be a good idea to measure the area of the room where the tree will be placed to ensure you get a tree that fits in the room.

Christmas tree farm, flickr, UGA College of Ag & Env

When choosing your tree, assess the tree to learn the condition it is in. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off this is not as fresh of a tree, choose another. Brown needles can fall from the tree and not indicate a problem with the tree.

When you take your tree home, cut a fresh cut on the stump of the tree and place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. Ensure that the stand maintains an adequate amount of water through the Holiday season. A fresh tree can use one quart of water or more per day. If you allow the water to drop below the fresh cut, a seal will form. A new cut would then be necessary to keep the tree fresh, use hot water the first time you water the tree after the new cut to dissolve any sap that would clog the water conducting tissues. The use of additives in the water will not help the tree stay fresh longer, just use fresh water and make sure the tree has enough.

A few fun Christmas tree facts from the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association:

  • When one tree is removed for a Christmas tree, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place
  • It takes 7-15 years to get a mature tree height of 6 feet tall for Christmas trees
  • Christmas trees are grown and harvested in all 50 states, including at 15 choose and harvest farms in Nebraska
  • There are approximately 1 million acres in production for growing Christmas trees
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Fall Color

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Fall is a wonderful time of the year, especially when the trees have a good display of colors.

There is a reason why our trees turn so pretty in the fall and why they are green the rest of the year. The color in our trees, during any part of the year, is due to four different pigments that are present in the leaves: chlorophyll, carotene, tannin and anthocyanin. During the spring and summer, chlorophyll is the primary pigment in leaves. It is constantly being generated by the trees as it is easily broken down by bright sunlight. When this compound is being produced in the spring and summer, it is the most prevalent and that is why we see the green in the leaves.

As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves, causing them to no longer receive any chlorophyll that the tree might still be producing. This membrane also leads to the eventual shedding of the leaves in the fall. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

Carotene is the pigment that is responsible for yellow and orange colored leaves. Carotene is always in the leaves, as it aids in the capture of sunlight for photosynthesis, but it is at a lower amount than chlorophyll so the green color shows up as the predominant pigment.

Tannins are our least favorite pigment color; they make the brown colored leaves. Tannins are always present in leaves but are not shown until the chlorophyll and carotene are gone from the leaves. These often accumulate in the dead portions of the leaves, which is why dead areas of our leaves turn brown in color.

Anthocyanin is the pigment that is responsible for pink, red, and purple leaves. This pigment is usually not present in the leaves until the fall. Some trees have red or purple colored leaves during the entire growing season because they have higher amounts of anthocyanins than chlorophyll throughout the whole growing season. Other trees don’t produce any anthocyanins and those are the trees that turn yellow, orange, or brown during the fall. Those trees and shrubs that turn red in the fall form anthocyanins when the concentration of sugar in the leaf increases. Low temperatures and bright sunshine destroys chlorophyll and when the temperatures stay above freezing during this time, anthocyanins are produced.

Burning Bush- 4

Burning Bush with great Red fall color

So, what causes our trees to turn bright and colorful in the fall and why are some years better than others? The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment. The yellow and brown will be present, but the red is necessary as well.

You don’t have to travel far to get amazing fall colors from the trees. There are many places right here in Nebraska to go for a wonderful fall color display in the trees. Indian Cave State Park in the far Southeast portion of the state, Ponca State Park in Northeast Nebraska, the Nebraska National Forests, and even your own backyard are great locations to find fall tree displays. Look around, they are not that hard to find, just as long as we have dry, sunny days followed by cool, dry nights and minimal frost until later in the season we will have a beautiful display of trees in the fall.