Natural Christmas trees make Santa’s nice list

When it comes to Christmas trees, natural ones are the way to go, according to FIU botanist Oscar Valverde-Barrantes.

Most artificial trees are made out of PVC, a petroleum-based plastic. It doesn’t break down naturally and can’t be recycled. Artificial trees also require a lot of energy to create and transport them often from foreign countries. Natural Christmas trees, on the other hand, can take on new life after the holidays. With 4,000 tree recycling programs throughout the country, nearly 85 percent of them are reused for a variety of purposes, including refuge for birds, food for goats, and mulch for gardening. They can even be reused to build makeshift coral reefs for marine animals.

“Even if you plan to use an artificial tree for several years, the fact is, it’ll end up in a dump and stay there for years,” said Valverde-Barrantes, a postdoctoral research associate in FIU’s International Center for Tropical Botany at The Kampong. A partnership between FIU and the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the center is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of tropical plants through research, education and outreach.

Natural trees are also good for the economy. They are planted, fertilized, watered and pruned by local farmers. The Christmas tree industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Holiday enthusiasts concerned with natural trees brining in bugs to their home should not be worried. Pines, firs and other common Christmas trees don’t attract a lot of insects because their needles are pretty hard for the critters to chew. In most cases, intruders will find their way out of a house once they realize they’re not in their natural environment, Valverde-Barrantes said.

Valverde-Barrantes has dedicated his career to studying the role of roots in the development of tropical trees and the mutually beneficial relationships between tropical trees and microorganisms, including fungi and bacteria.