O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches …
The small town of Indiana, Pa., birthplace of the actor Jimmy Stewart, lays claim to being the Christmas Tree Capital of the World because of the number and size of the tree farms within its vicinity. You won’t find any argument from Florida's tree growers. Yes, Florida does grow Christmas trees, but not quite on the scale of the giants of the north. On the other hand, they do offer something the big guys don't: Florida native trees.
The Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association counts 1,400 Christmas tree farms in the commonwealth, third most of any state in the country. The Florida counterpart currently lists 19 tree farms on its website, of which only one is in South Florida: B.G. Christmas Trees in Lee County.
You’re not going to find a Norway spruce or a Douglas fir growing on a Florida tree farm, but you will find two Florida native trees: red cedar and sand pine. Both species can be found in South Florida, but sand pines are much more common, particularly in coastal scrubs. And they're good-looking trees that can be bought live and transplanted after the holidays.
So for Day 9 of our 12 days of Christmas, behold the sand pine. How lovely are its branches.
Decades ago, when my mother was a young girl, she and her father, my grandfather, walked into some woods near their Hollywood home and cut down not one, but two, small trees for Christmas. She couldn’t make up her mind which one she liked better so they took both. You could do that back in the day. Now, not so much.
Chances are those two trees were sand pines. There is another pine common here in South Florida, the slash pine, but they don’t really make good Christmas trees. Sand pines are much fuller and have shorter needles; slash pines are on the spindly side, though culturally important in their own right. It's the lumber that built South Florida. Red Cedars can be found here, but they are scarce in the wild, though more common up the coast.
Evergreens, with their pyramid shape, in the Christian tradition represents the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The use of a decorated tree in connection with Christmas supposedly originated in Germany during the 16th or 17th century, although other cultures decorated trees for celebrations well before this. Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, is said to have been the first to put lighted candles on a tree. And supposedly the first Christmas trees in America date back to 1781, the Revolutionary War and Hessian (German) soldiers hired by the crown to fight the American rebels and who brought their tradition with them.
The tradition caught on to the point where it's hard to imagine the holidays without it.