christmas trees

Waightstill Avery; photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

From the glow of twinkling lights and ornaments to the brightly wrapped presents and songs about talking snowmen, the holidays are a time to gather with loved ones and celebrate life’s blessings.

But would Christmas be the same without the beautiful evergreen standing tall and proud in the center of the family room? The answer, of course, is no – and the farmers of North Carolina work hard all year long to ensure nobody needs to go without the iconic Christmas tree we all know and love.

The Fraser Fir

There are many types of evergreen, but the most popular Christmas tree beloved by millions of Americans is the Fraser fir. This particular species is native to the western Appalachian Mountains and makes up more than 99 percent of all the fir trees grown in North Carolina. But what makes this specific tree the ideal Christmas centerpiece?

“The Fraser fir has incomparable needle retention, pliable and strong branches for heavy ornaments, and soft, pleasant-to-touch dark green needles,” North Carolina Christmas Tree Association Executive Director Jennifer Greene says. It also possesses a wonderful fragrance that ushers people back to their sweetest childhood memories.

North Carolina is a top producer of Fraser firs, growing more than 20 percent of all the live Christmas trees in the United States.

“We have over 800 Christmas tree growers and approximately 37 million trees growing on more than 32,000 acres,” Greene says. “Our growers harvest around 4.3 million trees annually, totaling in excess of $100 million – not including value-added products like wreaths, roping, and table and mailbox decorations.”

christmas trees

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

How It All Began

North Carolina wasn’t always a hub for Christmas tree production. It began in March 1970, when Waightstill Avery was appointed Extension director of Avery County.

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“At that time, Avery County was the poorest county in the state,” Avery says. He says agriculture was the primary industry, but as tourism began to expand and developers were scooping up farms, residents recognized something had to change. “In order to save our farms, we had to find a profitable product so local people could stay home and make a decent living.”

After exploring a few options, Avery encouraged local residents to begin growing Fraser firs. While it was difficult at first to convince farmers to plant trees in their cattle fields, Avery managed to transform the county with his push for industry change. He played a pivotal role in establishing the Christmas tree industry in western North Carolina, forming a county growers’ association and working with nationwide contacts to make Fraser firs a household name.

“I was fortunate to be involved in an enterprise that started with minor income for the area and see it grow into a multimillion-dollar enterprise that helped change the lives and standard of living for many people all over western North Carolina,” Avery says.

Avery Farms

Today, Avery runs a Christmas tree farm located in the heart of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains in Plumtree. The farm has been growing Fraser firs for 50 years.

“Our trees and greenery have the unique advantage of growing in the perfect climate and soil conditions,” Avery says.

In a region with cool summer temperatures, lots of rainfall, limited pests and cold, snowy winters, Fraser firs thrive. Williams-Sonoma even orders Fraser firs from Avery Farms to feature in its winter catalogue.

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The North Carolina mountains will continue to provide holiday cheer for millions of people all around the world.

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