As the festive season approaches, it’s time to start thinking about one of the most iconic symbols of this time of year – Christmas trees!
In the UK, we have a number of tree species that have become popular icons of the festive season. The Douglas fir, sweet chestnut and holly trees are all symbolic of Christmas in their own ways.
The Douglas Fir Tree
Douglas firs are evergreen conifers that can live for more than 1000 years. They are native to North America, but were brought to the UK in 1827 by David Douglas. They thrive in the West of England, where rainfall is higher.
Because the trees live for so long, they provide deadwood cavities where bird and bats can shelter. Being tall, they also provide nesting sites for larger birds of prey, including buzzards, sparrowhawks and hobbies. In Scotland, Douglas fir forests provide habitats for red squirrels and pine martens.
Douglas firs are widely grown for Christmas trees, but their timber is also used to make beams, veneers, furniture, cladding, decking and flooring.
The Chestnut Tree
Chestnut trees are commonly found within the UK’s woods, specifically in the South of England. Rumoured to have been introduced to the UK by the Roman Empire, the oldest known chestnut tree can be found on Mount Etna in Sicily, and is estimated to be between two and four thousand years old.
Timber from chestnut trees develops from a straight grain to a spiraled pattern, and can be used within carpentry and joinery like oak. It provides stability, and is easy to work with.
Its sweet chestnuts are rich in vitamin C, and a popular choice for roasting during the festive season. They add a sweet and nutty taste to poultry and fruit cakes.
The Holly Tree
Holly trees are one of the most iconic festive trees in the UK. Native to the UK, they can also be found in Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. They usually grow in woodland, scrub and hedgerows, particularly in oak and beech woodland.
The trees produce deep scarlet berries which remain on the tree throughout winter, and are a vital source of food for birds and small mammals, such as wood mice and dormice.
They provide dense cover and nesting opportunities for birds, and their deep, dry leaf litter is used by hedgehogs and small mammals for hibernation. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, and the smooth leaves found at the top of holly trees are a winter source of food for deer.
Holly wood is the whitest of all woods, and is commonly used to make walking sticks. Its branches are used to decorate homes and create wreaths at Christmas.