Finding the perfect Christmas tree

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‘We’re uncovering a lot of relationships, fundamental triggers and factors’

BIBLE HILL – Dr. Raj Lada is hoping to one day have the perfect Christmas tree.

Dalhousie Agricultural Campus’s Dr. Raj Lada looks over a balsam fir that has grown from a seed grafted to roots at the campus’s germplasm lot. The research the students and Lada are working on regarding needle retention will be featured on Sunday’s CBC Land and Sea episode. Raissa Tetanish – Truro Daily News

The professor and department chairman of environmental science at Dalhousie Agricultural Campus is the founding chairman of the Christmas Tree Research Centre, and is working toward that supertree – the one that keeps its needles for months at a time.

“The moment a wholesaler sees the needle dropped, it gets rejected,” said Lada, who is looking at several factors including genetics and stressors that play a factor in needle dropping. “If you have a great needle retainer but a crappy (looking) tree, it’s rejected, just like if you have a great looking tree but it doesn’t retain its needles.”

The centre, which has students work alongside Lada, will be featured on an episode of CBC’s Land and Sea this weekend.

“The balsam fir is the most preferred tree in North America. People love it for its fragrance and blue-green colour. But the problem is needle retention. Trees are cut very early to meet the U.S. Thanksgiving and the holiday tree market.”

Lada said trees undergo mechanical stresses when they are first cut – from being dragged to baled, to being left in the open before put in a stand, to even the transportation.

“Trees are abused in several ways. Even though they are cut from the ground, they are still a living tree,” he said.

“They are still biologically active and they undergo metabolic changes.”

Almost everyone who uses a real tree for the holiday season wants the needles to stay with the tree until at least Christmas Day.

The research is looking at genetic variations, as well as foundational traits.

“We are constantly doing screening in various places,” Lada said, referring to throughout Nova Scotia and into New Brunswick. “We’re looking at the architecture and disease resistance.”

One of the factors to needle drop, said Lada, is dehydration.

“Dehydration occurs from the time you cut the trees, or even if a drought occurs. A lot of trees are already under stress, and dehydration is an added stress. Trees that take up more water are the first to lose its needles.”

The agricultural campus has its research centre within Perennia Innovation Park, as well as a germplasm centre just off College Road.

At the germplasm centre, the students and Lada will take seeds they’ve collected and graft them to roots. Another area contains older trees that the students and professor can cut to conduct research.

“We’re uncovering a lot of relationships, fundamental triggers and factors,” he said.

The professor said the centre is about more than just the research.

“It’s the responsibility of the researchers to show how it is connected and meaningful in the lives of those in the communities,” he said. “Research has to have meaning and an impact. The economy of our rural villages depend on families and our livelihoods, and we depend on this industry.”

Twitter: @TDNRaissa


Christmas tree industry to be featured on CBC documentary

Bible Hill - Christmas comes but once a year, but for thousands of Nova Scotia's balsam fir growers, it's a year round-occupation.

This fragrant holiday export can be found in homes across Canada, the USA, South America, and the Middle East. The highest profile tree is the annual gift from the province to the City of Boston in appreciation for their assistance during the Halifax explosion. This massive 15-metre tree is the centerpiece in the Boston Common each Christmas and the lighting ceremony includes fireworks and attracts thousands spectators.

During the past few decades the Christmas tree trade has grown into a multi-million dollar industry that has often struggled to keep up with demand. But growers have also had to face a host of new challenges. With a decrease in exports to the U.S. in recent years and aggressive competition from artificial trees and the less expensive U.S. grown Fraser fir, the industry is facing an uphill battle.

In response to these challenges, growers are working on a plan to secure their future. They're collaborating with researchers at the world's only Christmas Tree Research Centre at Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill to develop a "SMART" Christmas tree. Their goal is to create a high-tech tree that won't drop its needles for several months, making it more appealing to consumers and increasing its export potential.

‘Oh Christmas Tree’ is a half-hour documentary that takes viewers inside the world of Nova Scotia Christmas trees. The film will introduce viewers to the growers and researchers working to keep the industry alive and highlight the huge Christmas tree that is sent to Boston each year.

The documentary was written and directed by award-winning Halifax filmmaker Lorna Kirk, and created and produced by Edward Peill from Halifax-based Tell Tale Productions Inc.

“Nova Scotia is recognized as the balsam fir Christmas tree capital of the world, so we wanted to share that story with a wider audience,” said Peill in a news release. “Most people don't know where their Christmas tree comes from so hopefully this film will provide a little extra sparkle to their holiday this year.”

‘Oh Christmas Tree’ will have its world broadcast premiere on CBC Television’s Land & Sea on Dec. 22, at noon. Following the broadcast, the documentary can be watched on the CBC TV website at



Organizations: CBC, Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, Christmas Tree Research Centre U.S. Thanksgiving Halifax Tell Tale Productions

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, North America, U.S. New Brunswick Boston Perennia Innovation Park Canada South America Middle East Bible Hill

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