It’s that time of the year again, as we break out the boxes of ornaments, untangle the lights, and dust the cat hair off of the tree skirt. But what are all of these decorations without the centerpiece of holiday decor — the humble Christmas tree. This year, in particular, as we focus more on supporting our local economies and keeping our homes and communities as safe as possible, it’s important to reevaluate some of our shopping decisions and consider getting a Big Island Christmas tree.
According to the Hawaii Grown Christmas Tree Market Potential study by the Hawaii DLNR and US Forest Service, “In 2012 it was estimated that the total number of Christmas Trees sold in Hawai‘i was in excess of 190,000. Of these, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture estimates that 183,000 Christmas trees (96%) were imported.” Importing trees increases risk of bringing in unwanted pests and plant diseases. It is also considered to be an ecologically poor practice. Buying locally-grown Big Island Christmas Trees reduces pest risks and keeps money in our local economy. Consider supporting Hawaii agriculture by choosing an alternative tree option and/or buying from one of the following sources.
Traditional Christmas Trees
Hamakua Christmas Tree Forest
Hamakua Christmas Tree Forest is located on the Hamakua coast near Honomu. There they grow Portuguese and Arizona Cypress, varieties selected for the Big Island due to their hardiness and sustainability. The trees are drought tolerant and highly aromatic. Walk through the field of trees and pick just the right size and shape for your home. You can pick out and pay to reserve your tree if you want to pick it up later or take it home on the same day. They also have small potted trees in two or four foot sizes. Hamakua Christmas Tree Forest is now open every day 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no appointment needed)!
Norfolk & Cook’s Pine
Norfolk Island Pine trees (Araucaria heterophylla) and Cook’s Pine (Araucaria columnaris) are not true pine trees. They are a variety of sub-tropical tree native to the South Pacific. Both species are commonly found growing wild in Hawaii. Most small potted “Christmas trees” you see on Facebook or Craigslist are likely Norfolk Island Pine or Cook’s Pine trees. These trees will grow quite tall and are known to grow with tilted trunks. This can make them hazardous when grown outside and difficult to cut down when they grow large, so be careful where you plant these!
Traditional Christmas Tree Alternatives
Ho’oluana Tree Farm
Ho’oluana Tree Farm is sold out for their reserved cypress Christmas trees. Consider buying a native ‘ohia tree, with varieties offering red, yellow and orange flowers available from the farm. ‘Ohia trees are a hardy native species that will do well temporarily planted in a pot or planted in your yard. Ho’oluana Tree Farm offers classes in air layering, so you can learn how to make more trees!With rapid ‘ohia death ravaging wild trees, your tree may help to keep the species alive.
Buy a Pre-Loved Artificial Tree
If buying a living tree doesn’t suit your household, consider buying a pre-owned artificial tree from a non-profit thrift store. Buying pre-owned means reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a Big Island charity.
Christmas Palm Trees
If you’re looking for a fun alternative to a traditional tree, consider buying a Christmas palm tree! Palm trees are perfect for a tropical motif, easy to keep alive in our climate, and sustainable. Palm trees are a great pet-friendly alternative, as pine tree needles can be harmful to cats and dogs. Here are some of the best options:
Red Sealing Wax Palm,
The Red Sealing Wax Palm is a slow growing small palm tree. Other than needing to be kept in damp soil, this palm requires little attention. The bright red fronds and trunk are very Christmasy!
Christmas Palm/Manila Palm,
Christmas Palm are one of the most commonly grown landscape palms in Hawaii. They are named for the bright red berries that mature around Christmas time. Buy a Christmas Palm in a pot before out planting to an open space in your garden.
Dwarf Acai Palm,
The dwarf acai palm is a small and slow growing variety perfect for compact yards. It is fruit bearing, with a high yield of edible fruit popular as a superfood. This palm responds well to pruning, so keeping it trim to fit into your home decor is easy.
Dwarf Date Palm, Phoenix Roebelenii
The Dwarf Date Palm grows to about 6.5 feet tall outdoors. The prickly looking trunk gives this palm a rustic and prehistoric feel. This species can be kept in a container and even prefers to be slightly root bound. Female trees bear edible fruit.
The bamboo palm is an easy growing compact species that looks like a miniature bamboo grove. The fronds are more delicate than ones found further up this list, so maybe stick to lighter decorations. The Bamboo Palm is listed on NASA’s list of the best air purifying plants.