Better Christmas Trees Through Chemistry

By Tom Bacon

The chemistry, that is, of what makes some plantation-grown Christmas trees better than others - and the chemistry of what makes needles drop all over the living room floor. WSU researchers at the agricultural research lab in Puyallup have been trying to figure out answers to those and lots of other questions for decades now.  And they're still going with a one-million-dollar-plus grant from the U-S Department of Agriculture.
Gary Chastagner is boss of the WSU Christmas tree project.  With the grant money in hand, he and his researchers are adding genetic analysis to their arsenal of research tools, trying to figure out why some trees turn out better than others.
The work may not rise to level of halting climate change, but it is important.
Chastagner said that a third of the Christmas trees sold in the U-S come from Washington State and Oregon. The industry employs about 100-thousand people, and brings in more than a billion dollars a year.
He wants to make plantation-grown trees more resistant to the foibles and inconveniences that make people turn to artificial trees instead of real ones.
Chastagner said ideal trees have crisp, clean smells, thick brushy needles and perfect conical shapes. He's analyzed whether using fertilizer, preservatives or other chemicals might slow evaporation of water and improve needle retention.  So far, the answer is no.  But, he vowed he'll keep trying.
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