THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

Statistically Speaking: Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees

by Bill Chameides | December 18th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 5 comments


In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt nixed a Christmas tree for the White House. “It’s not good to cut down trees for mere decoration,” he claimed. “We must set a good example for the people of America.” Was President Roosevelt right? Should today’s conservationists take a page out of his book and forgo the tree?!

A lot of ink and pixels these days are devoted to Christmas trees. Which is the best to buy — artificial or real — and why? Here are some numbers to aid your decision.

No Tree

Percent of U.S. households that had no tree in 2002: ~32% (source)

Fake Trees

Percent of U.S. households that had a fake tree in 2002: ~48% (source)

How many plastic Christmas trees were imported from China in 2006: 9.8 million (source)

Approximate number of U.S. households with plastic Christmas trees containing PVC: 50 million (source)

Approximate number of plastic trees in U.S. households with danger of lead exposure (due to aging): 20 million (source)

Real Trees

Percent of U.S. households that had a real tree in 2002: ~21% (source)

Approximate number of real Christmas trees purchased in 2007: 31.3 million (source)

Percentage of real Christmas trees grown on farms versus other lands: 98% (source)

Number of pesticides used in tree farming (including the hormone disrupter atrazine and the fumigant methyl bromide): 40 (source: Sierra)

Percent change in use of pesticides in growing Christmas trees in North Carolina over the past decade: -50% (source)

Rate of nitrogen fertilizer application to Christmas tree farms in Michigan as compared to corn: 1.5 to 3.5 times higher (source)

A Few ‘Natural’ Stats to Mull Over

How many synthetic pesticides are used in organic Christmas trees: 0

How much lead-tainted PVC is used in organic Christmas trees: 0

Number of states where USDA organic Christmas trees are sold: 20 (source)

Number of states where Christmas trees are sustainably grown (without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers): 47 (source)

Oh, yeah, and the good thing about an organic tree is that you can recycle it. To find where to recycle your tree near you, check out So, what kind of tree are you getting?


Certified Naturally Grown –

“Christmas Trees and More,” University of Illinois Extension –

Christmas Tree Production and the Environment –

Ronnie Levin, et al. “Lead Exposures in U.S. Children, 2008: Implications for Prevention,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 0091-6765 Oct 2008, v116 i10, p1285(9) –

R.P. Maas, et al. “Artificial Christmas Trees: How Real Are the Lead Exposure Risks?” Journal of Environmental Health, 2004 Dec;67(5):20-4, 32 –

McClimans Family Christmas Tree Farm –

National Christmas Tree Association –

Anne Raver, “How Green Can A Christmas Tree Be?” New York Times, Dec 4, 2008 –

David Rothstein, “Christmas Tree Plantation: Effects of Fertilization on Tree Performance and Nitrogen Leaching,” Forest Science, Volume 51, Number 2, April 2005 , pp. 175-184(10) –

Dashka Slater, “The Hidden Life of the Holidays,” Sierra, Nov./Dec. 2002, Vol. 87 Issue 6, p34.

University of Illinois Extension –

“Top 30 Imported Products from China based on Total Value,” U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census –

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  1. Jill R. Sidebottom
    Dec 10, 2009

    One other statistic is that for each real Christmas tree grown in North Carolina, there is 25 square feet of green space for wildlife. Many creatures make Christmas tree fields part of their home. Some aren’t liked as well by the farmer since they can eat trees like deer. But most are just a pleasure to have around such as grouse, turkey, butterflies, and native ladybeetles. Small mammals such as mice and shrews are common providing food for raptors. Customers to one choose and cut farm near Boone last year were treated to a bear and a bobcat fighting while they drove past in a wagon. Quail and grouse are heard and seen in tree fields where they haven’t been for many years. Flickers feed on insects in decaying stumps. The habitat of these birds is declining in NC. What brings in all this wildlife? The abundant ground covers that growers are now leaving in their fields. These groundcovers provide nitrogen so many growers are skipping fertilizers. Groundcovers reduce erosion and allow Fraser fir which is a high elevation species to keep its roots cool. And though 40 pesticides may be labeled and used in Christmas trees somewhere in the US, in NC growers only commonly use 1 or 2 herbicides (primarily Roundup) and 1 or 2 insecticides. ” title=”another statistic about Christmas trees

  2. Bill A.
    Dec 23, 2008

    You mention that Teddy Roosevelt nixed the Christmas tree for conservationist reasons. The facts behind this possible myth/legend are being discussed at the “Peeling Back the Bark” blog ( I’m wondering what the real story is. ” title=”Roosevelt’s Christmas tree ban

    • erica
      Jan 5, 2009

      Dr. CHAMEIDES responds – Bill – Interesting, next you will be claiming that Washington did not chop down the cherry tree. And you could be correct on both accounts.” title=”Tree stories

  3. Justin Wickett
    Dec 19, 2008

    It would be very interesting to see the electricity consumption as a result of Christmas lights and other holiday decorations. Justin Wickett Duke 2010″ title=”Holiday electricity consumption

    • erica
      Dec 19, 2008

      Anyone out there who knows the answer to Justin’s question?” title=”Anyone, anyone?

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