The Indianapolis Star asked its readers in 1950 if their christmas tree farm was also a Hoosier. According to the article, 100,000 pine trees had been cut for Christmas by Indiana State Forests and private growers as of December 17, 1950. How did the state get involved in the Christmas tree industry?
The royal family and their tree in Illustrated London News December 1848 accessed British Library.
In the 1700s, American immigrants from Germany brought the Christmas tree tradition with them. The practice was not popularized in the rest of the country until the mid-19th Century, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, England, introduced it. The Illustrated London News published an 1848 illustration showing the royal family gathering around a Christmas tree farm. As people sought to imitate the fashion royal family, the idea of putting up Christmas trees spread from Britain to the United States.
American forests had dwindled by the time Christmas trees became a common American tradition. By the middle of 1800s, many of Indiana’s original 20,000,000 acres of forests had been cleared by European-American settlers for fuel, lumber, and farming. Americans realized that the country’s vast natural resources were not inexhaustible as forests began to disappear. The new conservation ethic emphasized rational use and planning natural resources, including forests, so that future generations would have enough lumber (and, of course, Christmas trees).
Some felt that the new conservation ethic was incompatible with Christmas tree tradition. How can conservationists allow the cutting down of hundreds of thousands trees each December to celebrate Christmas? Legend has it that President Theodore Roosevelt was a staunch conservationist who refused to allow a Christmas tree to be planted in the White House due to his opposition to excessive lumbering. Journalists speculated in newspapers about whether the Roosevelt family would plant a tree during his presidency. Some accounts claim that Roosevelt in 1902 forbade his family from having a Christmas tree. Roosevelt’s son Archie hidden a Christmas tree in his closet and had a White House electrician put lights on it. He surprised his family by giving it to them on Christmas Day.
Hoosiers debated whether conservationists could also be considered scrooges as state foresters gradually repopulated the state. James S. Whipple was the state forest, fish and game commissioner. He issued a 1907 statement encouraging families to plant artificial trees rather than cutting down evergreen trees for holidays. Whipple stated, “To destroy millions upon millions of these trees each year when we have such a need for more timber in the country. . . It seems extremely wasteful.”
The 1911 Angola Herald of Angola published a story titled “Sacrifice of Christmas Trees” and included several photographs of logging operations. One photo showed a pile of freshly-cut pines next to log trucks. It was captioned “Defacing nature for a Night’s Pleasure.” . . . There are indications that the supply of evergreen trees that we use to decorate our living rooms at St. Nicholas’s Day will decrease over the next 15 year.” The article also noted that Christmas trees were very scarce in the Midwest and east coasts, so most of them had to be imported from Canada.
Most Hoosier conservationists realized that the loved Christmas tree could be used for state forestry. Frank N. Wallace, state entomologist, told the Indianapolis News that Christmas trees could be used to boost forestation. He said that American Christmas traditions were built around the tree, and the future generations should have the opportunity to enjoy them. Charles C. Deam, a respected botanist and state forester, encouraged local communities to plant enough Christmas trees to meet local demand. Deam pointed out that there were large areas of Indiana land unsuitable to agriculture that could be used for common Christmas tree varieties such as white spruce and balsam fir. The Hoosier economy could reap the benefits of Christmas tree farming, as it would be very profitable considering that imported fir and white spruce prices have increased by 30%.
After World War II, Christmas tree farms started to appear all over the state. The state foresters offered guidance in forestry management, trimming and cutting trees. A variety of state forests offer seedlings that can be planted in the fields to help farmers jumpstart their Christmas tree farms. Farmers had to be committed as growing Christmas trees takes a lot of time. Outdoor Indiana featured the Bob Kern Christmas Tree Farm, Fulton County, Indiana, in 1964. His farm was established in 1947 by Kern. He was responsible for 400 acres of Scotch pine and white pine as well as other species such as spruce or fir. Kern stressed that Christmas tree cultivation was difficult because farmers had the responsibility of cultivating richly-colored, symmetrical trees that would be desired by consumers. Each tree had to be trimmed to the desired height. Weeds needed to be kept under control. A six-foot tree can take at least six years for to grow. Because it took so long to grow just one tree, it was necessary to plant seedlings soon after the tree was removed.
Although Christmas trees survived the conservation era of the 1970s, there were similar doubts about the environment in the 1970s. The postwar affluence that was fueled by cars and factories resulted in more polluted water, air and land. Hoosiers were among the first to lobby for stronger environmental legislation. They also adopted new practices like recycling to lessen their negative impact on the environment. Some people still worry that cutting down trees for holidays could have a negative impact on the environment.
EJ Lott, Purdue University Extension Forester Christmas Tree Farm, assured environmentalists that for every tree that was cut, two to three trees would be planted in the spring to replace it. He stated that “an acre of Christmas trees growing will provide daily oxygen needs for 18 people.” Tree plantations also provided habitats for wildlife and aesthetically pleasing landscapes. In reality, Christmas trees are a crop just like corn and soybeans. Christmas tree farm would continue to plant more trees as long as people bought them. The Herald of Jasper Indiana put it succinctly: