Each holiday season, families wanting to be more green wrestle with whether to buy a Christmas tree. And if so, should it be real or fake?
Where to find trees
You can cut your own Christmas trees at the following farms. Some may have a few trees in pots that can be replanted:Center Bend FarmIn Harleyville. Open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sells Leyland cypress, Carolina Blue Sapphire, Clemson Greenspire and Eastern red cedar. From S.C. Highway 178 in Harleyville, take First Bend Road 2.5 miles to 236 Center Bend Lane.Call 462-7466.Tomlinson Tree FarmNear Ridgeville. Open daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m. through Dec. 24. Sells Virginia pine, Leyland cypress, Eastern red cedar and Fraser fir from North Carolina.From Charleston or Summerville, take Interstate 26 west to S.C. Highway 27 south through Ridgeville. Cross railroad tracks and go 4.5 miles. Turn left on McArn Road. Proceed half a mile to the farm.Call 871-4223.Lebanon Christmas Tree FarmNear Goose Creek. Open 10 a.m. until dark weekdays and 9 a.m until dark weekends.Sells Leyland cypress, Virginia pine and Carolina Blue Sapphire. Also has Fraser firs from North Carolina. Take Rivers Avenue to U.S. Highway 176 in Goose Creek. Turn left and travel 11 miles to Cypress Campground Road. Turn left and follow the signs to the farm.Call 688-5088.Too Goo Doo Christmas Tree FarmOn Yonge’s Island. Open 2 p.m. to dusk Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. until dusk on weekends.Sells Eastern red cedar, Leyland cypress, Carolina Blue Sapphire, some white and Virginia pines, and Fraser firs from North Carolina. Take S.C. Highway 175 to S.C. Highway 162 toward Hollywood and Edisto Island. Turn left at only light in Hollywood (after the Piggly Wiggly). The farm is 3 miles on the left.Call 475-6445, 224-0350 or 425-3802.NoelsOn Johns Island. Open weekdays 2 p.m. until dark, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m until dark. Sells Leyland Cypress, Eastern red cedars, Carolina Sapphire and Fraser firs from North Carolina. The lot will not have Virginia pines this year. From Charleston, take Maybank Highway, cross River Road, go about 1.5 miles and turn right on Fernhill. The farm is half a mile on the right.Call 209-9461Cut trees also are sold at lots open for seasonal business, home improvement stores, some grocery stores and garden centers.
The environmental pros and cons are varied and well-known. Here are a few.
Real or fake?
Fake trees are relatively cheap and can be reused year after year, but are polyvinyl chloride, a plastic made during a process that releases dioxins, cancer-causing chemicals, experts say.
How many years would your tree have to be used to make it the more environmentally friendly choice?
Real trees capture carbon emissions from the air as they grow and can be recycled. But many are raised on plantations using chemicals harmful to wildlife and humans. The choice of a real tree becomes more attractive if it can be purchased with roots, usually in a pot, and replanted after the holidays.
Other families are more likely to choose a real tree if their local government mulches or composts them.
We asked local conservationists and environmentalists to tell us what they have decided. We also asked what mattered most in reaching their decisions.
Here’s what they said:
Laura Addis, director of marketing and communications for the Sustainability Institute, says, “I will be getting a Christmas tree.
“I will probably go to a tree farm in Johns Island. I believe in certain traditions. That’s what I grew up with. The smell and the memories are something I want to continue to pass down through my family.”
The farm on Johns Island grows its trees to sell as Christmas trees, Addis says.
“Buying from a local tree farm is certainly better than getting one trucked in from North Carolina and all the carbon emissions that go along with that. That’s not putting money back into my local economy.”
Carbon emissions are those released into the air when fossil fuels such as gasoline are burned. Many argue the emissions contribute to global warming.
“I am very aware that the Bees Ferry Landfill comes through and picks up trees and turns them into compost,” says Addis, who wants to observe Christmas in a traditional way that is as eco-friendly as possible and supports the local economy.
Jane Lareau, longtime Lowcountry environmental activist, no longer puts up a Christmas tree. When she did, it was a fake plastic tree she reused for about a decade. She bought the nearly 6-foot-tall tree on sale for $12 and says it was attractive.
“My reason was if you drive through the mountains of Western North Carolina, you can drive for miles where old native forests have been cut down and they have got these crops (of trees),” Lareau says.
She chose the fake tree, understanding that manufacturing it also has negative environmental effects, but reasoned it was a one-time purchase.
“I have a special love for Western North Carolina,” Lareau says. “Those hillsides are just completely denuded.”
Growing the crops of Christmas trees where the old native forests once stood was the waste of habitat that wildlife, including many beautiful birds, used, she says. Many big Christmas tree farms also use a lot of chemicals to grow trees, and it takes a lot of energy to get their products to consumers, she adds.
Dana Beach, the Coastal Conservation League’s executive director, and wife Virginia each grew up in homes where non-native Scotch pines were used. But recently, the two have bought Virginia pines from Noels Christmas Tree Farm.
“Last year, we got what my daughter, Nellie, who was 19, described as a ‘rescue tree,’ Beach says. “It had this big bare spot on the trunk, but it had a beauty to it.”
This farm earns income from the Christmas tree sales, keeps the land open and the trees capture carbon, Beach says. When the holiday has passed, local governments will mulch the trees. When the mulch is used by gardeners, the trees are being recycled.
“While the Virginia pine is not indigenous to the Lowcountry, it is a regionally indigenous tree,” Beach says. “If it’s not being imported from the mountains of North Carolina or New England, like some of the trees preferred locally for the holidays. It’s a better choice.”
Andy Harrison, the Audubon Society’s field trip coordinator, does not usually buy a tree but will do so this year. His mother will be in town, so Harrison will purchase a fragrant spruce or Fraser fir. He has not yet decided on where he will purchase the tree, but assumes it will be from a lot. “I try and do things in an environmentally sound way, but I grew up with a live Christmas tree,” Harrison says.
Having a real tree is important when sharing the holidays with family members, he says.
Around the first of the year, he’ll secure the tree outside where the birds can use it for a couple of months, he says. When birds are at feeders or baths, it’s good for them to have a place to take shelter from predators.
He will leave it there for a couple of months, then put it out to be picked up with the rest of his waste. He says although his process is unusual, it helps birds.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.