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Disease In Christmas Fir Trees Threatens Family Favorite

The mold, once it's in the soil of a Christmas tree farm, can't be eradicated.

The Fraser fir tree is being decimated by root rot. File | Patch
The Fraser fir tree is being decimated by root rot. File | Patch

The Fraser fir is the most popular species for Americans buying a live Christmas, but the holiday favorite is in danger of losing that status as disease makes it impossible to continue growing in some areas.

According to an Associated Press story on the Huffington Post website, Fraser firs are plagued by Phytophthora root rot, a water mold. No fungicide has proven effective to control the mold on Christmas tree plantations, so once it's in the soil, that's it.

The Fraser topped a national poll for favorite Christmas tree species sold in the United States. The tree’s branches turn up at the ends, says the National Christmas Tree Association, making it great for keeping lights and ornaments in place.

Growers in Oregon, the nation's No. 1 Christmas tree producer, have been experimenting with the Turkish fir as a replacement for the ailing Fraser fir. That species and the Nordmann fir, also native to Eurasia, have shown promising resistance to root rot, says the AP story.

In North Carolina, the No. 2 Christmas tree producer, root rot costs farmers up to $6 million a year, said the wire service.

Jeff Pollard, who grows about 130,000 trees on western North Carolina farms, told the AP Phytophthora set in after Hurricane Fran in 1996 and got worse following 2004's Hurricane Ivan. He's lost about a quarter of his trees over the past six seasons.

Pollard planted his first seedlings from the new varieties about six years ago and sold his first trees last year. He told the wire service his customers were "tickled to death."

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