There’s really no such thing as a ‘Christmas tree’—people have different preferences for conifers as their Christmas centrepiece , depending on what's on offer.
In Europe, where the tradition started, the quintessential Christmas tree is the Norway spruce (Picea abies), a fast-growing conifer species native to the Eastern and Northern parts of the continent. Another popular option is the attractive Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) with thicker foliage and needles that don’t shed as quickly once the tree has dried out.
The branches of the quintessential Christmas tree, the Norway spruce.
PHOTO: F. D. Richards, Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0
In North America, a popular Christmas tree species is the native Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), a misleadingly named species that doesn’t actually belong to the fir genus, but this biological detail is pretty much irrelevant when it comes to its decorative powers.
A grove of commercially grown Douglas firs in Oregon, US.
PHOTO: US Dept of Agriculture, Flickr/CC BY ND 2.0
Australians and New Zealanders have ended up largely favouring the imported Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), a species native to the Central Coast of California, but now an extremely common forest tree in both countries, sometimes to the detriment of local native ecosystems.
Pohutukawa trees in full bloom in New Zealand.
In New Zealand there’s also a native tree associated with festive cheer—the pohutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa) is often referred to as 'New Zealand Christmas tree', since it blossoms with stunning red flowers right around Christmas season, no decorations needed.