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Dry Decembers Threaten Christmas Trees

Dec 29, 2014 01:30 PM EST

Christmas is now behind us, and festive trees are being stripped of their bedazzlement and chucked to the curb. Unfortunately, new research has revealed that these may have been some of the last we'll see, as thinner snows are making it harder for new Christmas trees to grow.

Of course, this isn't true for all trees that are commonly used for the holidays. Commercial pine forests in the United States for instance (found from eastern Texas to southeastern Virginia) boast a diverse number of conifers that remain healthy and are even supporting a very endangered songbird.

However, in the case of the iconic Norwegian spruce - the towering poster child of "Christmas trees" - growing conditions across the globe are getting worse and worse in the face of climate change.

A team of researchers from the Finnish Forest Research institute recently spent two seasons studying a large population of the spruces in eastern Finland, determining just how these trees at various ages and points in the growing cycles respond to climate change.

According to the results, recently published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, less snowfall in common spruce habitats is severely limiting the growth of these trees, potentially leaving them unwell and even unfit for harvest by Christmas.

"If the climate changes how we expect it to, the trees are not going to be happy," researcher Sirkka Sutinen told New Scientist. "If we had several years like this in a row, we could see significant damage."

In various parts of the experimental area, Sutinen and her colleagues simulated and assessed various weather conditions in accordance with "business as usual" climate models for the near-future. They saw that as snowfall and precipitation continue to decline during winter seasons, these hardy trees will actually suffer.

That's because with less snowfall insulating the ground, cold winter air can seep deeper into local soil, freezing up water and nutrients in the ground. The spring thaw then will take longer to occur, and thirsty and starved trees will be forced to wait. The consequence is stunted growth and even damage for larger trees, limiting how many impressive spruces will be standing tall in homes and on street corners by late December.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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