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Go a little “greener” this year, consider a Florida native Christmas Tree

Updated for 2020

If you’ve been looking for ways to make your holiday celebrations just a little more eco-friendly, consider getting a native Florida sand pine, locally-grown this Christmas! You can cut down your very own Florida native Christmas tree from the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest this November and December.

While it’s true that Florida’s native trees do not have that traditional “Christmas tree” look to them; they radiate Florida charm and character (See photo, below).

A blonde woman stands next to a sand pine tree decorated for christmas

Sand pine, while unconventional, can make attractive Christmas trees for families who want a native Florida tree. This photo is from the UF/IFAS Extension Polk County office, taken in 2015.

There is one important thing to note when considering a sand pine for a Christmas tree. The trunks are much smaller than a traditional Christmas tree. They may not fit in a standard Christmas tree stand meant for a tall fir tree.

A 15-foot sand pine may only have a trunk diameter of 2-3 inches after you cut the tree down to size for your home. See how small the trunk is, in the photo above? We used 2×4 lumber blocks, to help hold our tree upright. Keep this in mind when looking at potential Christmas tree stands.

Florida sand pine Christmas trees are a beautiful and affordable way to make your holiday celebrations a bit “greener”

Make it a family event! You and your family will form a truly Floridian memory. Where else can you go out in sunny, 75° weather to cut down your own native Christmas tree? 

After you cut your tree down to size at home, you can use the excess branches for additional decoration. They make for a wonderful holiday wreath or mantle decor (see photo, below). Keep in mind that these trees, like all-natural Christmas trees, are highly flammable. The branches are extra flammable as they dry out over the month. Do not allow mantle decor to hang near an open flame.

And remember: keep all Christmas trees away from space heaters, use LED Christmas lights, and keep them well-watered to reduce the risk to your home and family.

A cozy fireplace with native sand pine branches used for a mantlepiece garland.

Example of sand pine branches used for a Christmas mantlepiece garland.

Why is cutting down a sand pine tree good for the ecosystem?

According to Nathan Bartosek, a Forester with the Florida Forest Service, “Allowing the public to remove some of this sand pine cover and density helps us remove the canopy without heavy disturbance to the ground.”

Traditionally, a thinning operation like this would be done with heavy machinery and come at a significant cost. By buying a permit and chopping down your own Florida sand pine for a native Christmas tree, you are helping the Florida Forest Service reduce fire danger, improve wildlife habitat, and promote the community’s appreciation of our native species.

Sand pine trees are available for a fee of $10

Remember: All Christmas tree payment fees must be paid in either iron ranger/pay station by kiosks located on north and south School Bus Road on Arbuckle tract. Fee payment is an honor system for Christmas trees/sand pines for sale. The permit is only $10 (exact cash, money order, or check only) per tree per family.

The forest service does not recommend the use of car GPS units or mapping apps to find the office. The directions provided below are usually more reliable. You can find directions to the Forest Service Office, below.

Trees are available at the following dates, Sunrise to Sunset:
  • Monday-Saturday, November 23 thru November 28, 2020
  • Monday-Saturday, November 30 thru December 5, 2020
  • Monday-Friday, December 7 thru December 11, 2020
  • Monday-Thursday, December 21 thru December 24, 2020

You will need to bring your hand saw and cut down your own tree. Motorized tools are not allowed for Christmas tree harvesting in the State Forest. 

You can only remove trees from designated areas. During your quick stop to the Florida Forest Service office, you will be provided a map and explanation of the areas where you can remove trees. Do not cut down any tree outside the designated areas. 

The eligible trees are between 10 and 15 feet tall but can be cut shorter when you get home. The lower limbs are often scraggly, so when “shopping” for your tree, look up at the top half of the tree to get a feel for what it may look like as a Christmas tree. If you’re looking for a denser, more bushy Christmas tree “look” consider buying two permits and bunching them together to mimic one tree. Unconventional, I know … but it works.

For questions and assistance please contact
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest Headquarters at 863-589-0545.

See the event flyer here: 2020_Christmas_Sale

 

University of Florida IFAS Extension is committed to diversity of people, thought and opinion, to inclusiveness and to equal opportunity.
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.