Christmas trees have been part of the European Christmas tradition since at least the 16th century, but the tradition of bringing evergreen trees indoors during the winter solstice goes back even earlier.
Christmas Trees in Germany
Germany is credited with popularising the Christmas tree in the 16th Century and spreading the tradition to the new world. The Hanoverian Kings of England brought the practice to Great Britain from Germany, but it was Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert that cemented it as an English tradition.
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg
Prince Albert, who was from Schloss Rosenau near Coburg in central Germany, brought with him many of the German family traditions to life at Windsor.
Prince Albert gave the gift of Christmas trees to many of the army barracks and schools around Windsor, but it was a 1848 engraving of the royal family decorating a Christmas tree that made the tree a “must have” for British families. As a result, Covent Garden in London was selling hundreds of trees by the 1860s.
The traditional species of tree used in Great Britain is the Norway Spruce (Picea abies), which was reintroduced to the British Isles in the 1500s.
Australian Christmas Trees
The most common Australian Christmas tree is the fast growing Pinus Radiata, which is native to a small island off the coast of California. Usually these are bought from small plantations around Melbourne. Another common practice is to use a plastic tree.
Alternatives to the traditional Christmas tree
If you have had enough of pine needles in your house or in your car, or if you find it difficult to dispose of the tree after Christmas, consider using a living Christmas tree.
Amongst the Australian Native choices for a living Christmas Trees is Banksia Nutans or nodding banksia. As it is suitable for growing in pots, tubs or containers, this banksia can be shifted outside after Christmas or kept in a pot for use over a few Christmas seasons. Banksia Nutans is a small, bushy shrub, only growing up to about 2 metres high. The narrow linear leaves grow up to 20mm long and resemble fir leaves.
The Banksia Nutans is native to the south west of Western Australia growing mostly in scrubland and woodland with sandy or gravely soil. This makes it a good plant for growing in Melbourne Coastal Gardens like Hampton and Brighton. Its showy red brown or orange flowers and bright green new fruits would make it a great pot plant in any climate.
Another important advantage of the living Christmas tree is that it is much easier to keep moist. Cut conifers risk drying out to the point where flammability can present a problem.
Any of the fine leafed Banksias can be used for this purpose and are a great trees for the Australian garden.
Colorado Blue Spruce
If you are after a more traditional look for a living Christmas tree, then consider the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). The conical shape and dense blue green foliage make this a great plant for formal gardens, rockeries and containers. Growing up to 2 metres tall, it will eventually become too large to bring indoors for the festive season. As it is a very slow growing tree, you should be able to bring it inside for a few seasons at least.
If you are planning to eventually plant your tree outdoors, spruces prefer cool summers and will tolerate severe frosts.
Pruning is not really required but you may wish to shape the trees to keep the conical shape.
Woolly Bush (Adenanthos Sericeus)
The Woolly Bush is a great choice for a living Christmas Tree. The fine light green leaves are soft to touch which you will appreciate when you are moving it indoors or outdoors. The Woolly bush is native to the south coast of Western Australia.
The Woolly bush will thrive in most soils even poor sandy soils. This makes it a good plant for your coastal garden in Brighton, Sandringham and Hampton. The small red flowers will out most of the year and make a great tree for attracting honeyeaters to your garden. For regular Christmas tree use, grow it in a large tube and prune it regularly for the traditional shape.
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