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Let's grow our Christmas trees Let's grow our Christmas trees
by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
2021-12-24 08:19:09
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Come Christmas and everyone has a bit of a tree decorating tradition in our homes, inside or in our gardens. Real the tree more the merry making the tree glow like a bride. One look at the tree and our hearts swell with gratitude for life and peace.

elsxma00001_400All year round, my aunt Mallika Suresh proudly flaunts her Bonsai Pine fir, conifers and Holly Berry shrub and trees- hardy to the sub-zero temperatures. Nothing, not even zero temperatures can beat down her enthusiasm when it comes to tending or pampering her plants, mostly the Bonsai pine fir. My mum's golden cypress has always been her pride and love, given the manner in which she raised it and protected it from storms just like a watchful, concerned parent would protect her child.  If there is one person I know who would always go that extra step to nurture a pond cypress, to watch it grow and change and to help it develop and sometimes struggle, that's Karla Gottlieb. As their trees continue to grow and flourish in their own yards, proud plant parents are sure to enjoy the memories of a special holiday—living memories.

Blossom Fir, Fraser Fir, Doughlas Fir,Virginia Pine, Scotch Pine and White Spruce. Do these names ring a bell! These are nothing but evergreen conifers that give us a pinch of festive feel at home during Christmas. All of us prefer to have a Christmas tree as it’s a memorable aspect of an annual festive  decoration. These trees symbolize everlasting life as they remain green all year: rain, shine or snow.

We are living in exciting times. The pace of change from real to fake is dizzying and the impact this progress is having on our present and future is difficult to comprehend in its entirety.

We never knew when these real trees gave way to artificial customised ones with easy collapsibility and built-in lights, thereby jeopardising the cultivation of these trees. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of Christmas trees I feel  compelled to share a memory,  vivid and fond. In that small village I grew up, people seemed enamoured with the idea of growing their own Christmas trees. Every house had a Golden Cypress or Star Pine or Cook Pine with shoots almost strong enough to hold the Christmas lights and decorations. I don’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with a real Christmas tree but I’ve quite a few stories surrounding Christmas trees. People tended the trees, mostly on either side of their gates, throughout the year so that they looked perfect for Christmas.

In spite of the other plants and trees in the garden, the Christmas Tree is a miracle to every kid in the household for different reasons. And to me, our golden cypress is the reason I fell in love with plants and trees as such and why they looked elegant and valuable to me. This potted ‘teardrop’ shaped beauty literally adorned our small garden with their bright golden-green, chartreuse colour. Those on garden ground, 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide were indeed a sight to watch.

Right from advent, this Christmas tree reared at home remained the centerpiece of attraction with enthusiastic kids decorating it. One subtle message put across by elders was, the survival of any tree on earth is closely linked to the survival of every other Christmas tree. On a personal note, real trees are more about tradition, great smell and memories of growing them.

There are many more reasons as to why a Cypress is a must in our garden. A simple tea decoction of the needles in a particular dosage is known to be an effective remedy for asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory tract inflammations. Salve made from cones of these long living trees can directly treat health concerns like Athlete’s foot.

elsxma00002_400Christmas tree cultivation, a relatively new pursuit, is done in farms all over the world with Choose –and –Cut farms capturing people’s attention. Last year in America alone, almost eleven million families brought home a real tree for Christmas. Large tracts of lands in many western nations are being used to cultivate firs and pines which take almost 8-12 years, depending on the species and that means they take in CO 2, filter air, remain rooted in soil and provide a home for birds and small mammals until they are harvested. Unused tracts of land if put to use will augur well because clearing forest lands of hardwoods and indigenous pine trees to make way for pine plantations doesn’t contribute much to contain global warming. According to experts, natural pine stands and hardwood forests store more carbon.

Christmas can in a way encourage parents to inculcate in children the love for plants by starting off with a sapling at home, in a garden patch or balcony that gets ready to be decked up at the end of the year, which is an added motivation. A live tree with intact roots is definitely better off than a cut tree. We assume we save trees from being cut down by switching over to artificial trees that also contain the dubious Polyvinylchloride known to release dioxins and other carcinogens. These artificial trees are our concern because they are manufactured almost exclusively in Asia.

We must know that these trees made of metal and plastic will be trashed someday in a landfill for the next 10 decades or so. Shouldn’t we be concerned that these can’t be recycled by most recycling programs! Every green champion is also aware that freighted goods have a higher CO 2 tag attached to it. Sold in India, produced elsewhere isn’t a win-win choice. In contrast, cut trees just go back to earth if not composted or mulched. So, the ritual of picking up a cut-tree for the season need not bother us if we understand that it’s another crop, albeit one with a long rotation time, raised for a purpose, just in time. I don’t mean to say we give up on Christmas trees. We just need to be more conscious of our choices.

A live tree is much more than just a decorated tree and it’s also a reminder with the message to the generation of today, which is forgetting the core of ‘life and living’ itself. After all, nobody wants to hide a scent diffuser with pine essence in a corner. I still prefer the fragrance of the golden cypress I had as a child and so do my cousins, very few of them whose most enduring memories are associated with particular smells too.

Let growing our own Christmas trees turn out to be the new ‘normal’. Grow one and you will come to know it not only binds family, but will tug at both sentimental and environmental heartstrings.



 All photos by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel

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