If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Christmas Story,” (if not, TBS plays it 12 times in a row starting on Christmas Eve) you might recall the scene when the Parkers venture to a tree lot.
“This isn’t one of those trees that all the needles falls off, is it?” asks Mrs. Parker.
The salesman responds: “No, that’s them balsams.”
Balsam fir is one of the most fragrant of Christmas tree species, but as the line from the movie suggests, it has a warranted reputation for shedding needles.
While Connells Maple Lee doesn’t sell Christmas trees, we offer a wide range of fresh Christmas wreaths. Traditionally, they were made from balsam fir and delivered a solid value for our customers.
In recent years, however, after noticing a decline in the quality of the balsam wreaths, we switched to noble fir wreaths. They vary in size and come undecorated or adorned with the likes of pine cones, red berries and juniper. Bows and balls can be added, too.
Connells Maple Lee also offers silk balsam wreaths that are priced comparable to the old fresh balsam wreaths.
Cheryl Brill, Connells Maple Lee’s chief operating officer, said that the balsam wreaths were not constructed as well as they had been, perhaps because of a shortage of labor that required earlier and earlier production schedules.
“And there’s been an awful lot of drought,” she said. “Evergreens don’t respond well to that. When you cut them extra early to produce wreaths and then you’ve been having a drought situation, you end up with naked wreaths by the end of the season.”
‘Noble in stature’
If you aren’t familiar with noble fir, consider that it has been referred to as “the Cadillac of Christmas trees” and “the king of holiday greens.”
Here’s how The Real Christmas Tree Board, a national promotion and research organization funded by North American Christmas tree growers, describes the noble fir:
“Noble in name and stature, this stately tree features short, blue-green needles. The Noble fir has some of the best needle retention among Christmas tree species, with stiff branches and an attractive form to handle heavy ornaments. You’ll also find it used as greenery for wreaths and garland.”
To understand why noble fir is superior to balsam fir in needle retention, it helps to understand where the trees grow.
Balsam fir is grown in Canada, the northeastern states, the upper Great Lakes and Pennsylvania, according to The Real Christmas Tree Board; most noble fir is grown in the Pacific Northwest, at a significantly higher altitude than balsam. Continental Floral Greens, the maker of our noble wreaths, harvests the trees on the slopes of Mount St. Helens.
Nobles must be sturdy enough to withstand high winds. They also face 60 inches of rain annually and plenty of frost, which are key factors in their superior moisture and needle retention.
The noble wreaths are more expensive than the balsam wreaths, which reflects the longer growing time for noble and the shipping distance from Washington State.
While switching from traditional balsam wasn’t an easy decision, Brill noted that it was motivated by a desire to offer a better-constructed, longer-lasting option to customers.
“The main thing is their longevity,” she said of the noble. “And they are a very pretty wreath. The fir is fluffier because the needles are kind of rounded. It’s not a flat branch like a balsam is. So it has more dimension to it. They’ve always been my favorite.”