Each Christmas, families across North Carolina and the country embark on a journey to find the perfect Christmas tree. They walk tree by tree through lots looking for the right fullness, an even triangular shape, a sweet piney aroma, and soft needles that don’t seem to fall off easily.
For many, it is the last characteristic, known as needle retention, which is most important. Consumers site messiness as one of the most common reasons for not purchasing a live Christmas tree.
For decades, farmers have refined the skill of identifying high-quality trees by visually examining the most desired characteristics. But it takes up to eight years to distinguish a marketable tree, which means eight years of costs and resources associated with cultivation.
With the help of scientists in the College of Natural Resources, farmers may soon be looking inside of the tree rather than outside to identify marketable family lines. Dr. Lilian Matallana, a postdoctoral research scholar in Forestry and Environmental Resources, spends her days in a lab in Biltmore Hall examining the genetic makeup of Fraser Firs, which represent over 96% of all Christmas trees produced in North Carolina.