Farmers work to save NC Christmas trees

Christmas begins on the mountain slopes of North Carolina, where farmers grow Fraser firs from seedlings to decorate millions of East Coast homes, including the White House.

An estimated 50 million Fraser firs are under cultivation, and North Carolina ranks second in the nation behind Oregon in the number of Christmas trees harvested, state agriculture officials say.

With the rapid increase in fir plantings have come problems such as the spread of a highly destructive rot, called Phytophthora, that infects the roots of Frasers and kills thousands of trees each year. It costs North Carolina growers $5 million to $6 million a year.

The exotic pathogen doesn't just kill the trees; it also leaves the soil unusable for growing more Frasers. That poses a serious threat to a state industry that relies on the signature tree.

But help may be on the way from Turkey. More than 50,000 Turkish firs are now growing on mountain slopes in North Carolina. Growers and researchers are looking for disease-resistant varieties of fir that can thrive on land where Frasers can no longer grow, as well as species that can be grafted to improve the Frasers' disease resistance.

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