Biotech Updates

NC State's Genetically-Improved Christmas Trees Grow Faster, Retain Needles Longer

December 20, 2023

Fraser firs have soft, dark green needles with silvery undersides. Photo Source: North Carolina State University Christmas Tree Genetics Program

The North Carolina State University (NC State) Christmas Tree Genetics program has spent more than four decades developing elite Fraser fir trees. Fraser firs are native to North Carolina's Appalachian mountains and represent more than 98% of all the Christmas tree species grown and sold in the state.

Fraser Fir is one of the most popular Christmas tree species in the United States because of its symmetrical, conical shape. They also have soft, dark green needles with silvery undersides. In the late 1990s, the Christmas Tree Genetics Program evaluated and tested thousands of Fraser firs to identify those with the best genetic characteristics. The research team identified the best 25 from nearly 30,000 trees and then propagated and planted them on a six-acre seed orchard at the Upper Mountain Research Station in 2018.

According to Justin Whitehill, director of the Christmas Tree Genetics Program, their genetically improved trees reached an average height of around a foot taller than trees available in the market today. “Our genetically-improved trees grew an extra 1-2 inches a year,” Whitehill said. “So instead of having to wait 7-8 years for a tree to reach the typical commercial height, growers might only have to wait 6-7 years.”

The genetically improved Fraser fir trees not only have a superior growth rate and appearance but also retain their needles longer after harvest. The Fraser firs developed by the Christmas Tree Genetics Program are expected to lose less than 1-2% of their needles, according to Whitehill, even in the absence of cooler temperatures.

For more details, read the article in NC State News.

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