There’s nothing like having a real tree for Christmas, whether it’s an eight-footer that touches the ceiling or something Charlie Brown would have chosen. But do you know what species it is? Is it an aromatic Fraser Fir or a prickly Blue Spruce?

Here are a few pointers on how to properly identify which tree you’ve perched in your living room this Christmas.


Balsam Fir

photoKevin Callan

Balsam firs are common across Canada and the northern United States. They’re known for keeping their needles throughout the entire holiday, having strong branches to hang ornaments on and the best aroma. The needles have two dull white lines (stoma lines) on the underbelly and are attached full around the twig but appear flat. There’s also resin blisters along the bark (resembling pimples) that can be squeezed, and the pitch used for fire starter or placed on a cut to act like a band-aid.


Fraser Fir

The Fraser fir is sometimes known as the southern balsam fir since it grows in the southern Appalachian Mountains and in parts of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. It has a similar appearance to balsam fir but its branches are turned slightly upward, which gives the tree a more compact appearance. They’re also less flexible and a lighter green colour. The Fraser fir also has less blisters on its bark.


White Spruce

photoKevin Callan

The short, blue-green coloured needles grow all around the branch in cigar shapes. There’s far less stretch in the branches, making it perfect for hanging heavy ornaments and lights. The tree is also conical shaped, like the iconic Christmas tree. However, it does not have the sweet fragrance of the firs and will eventually smell like cat pee. It also needs to be watered regularly or it will dry out.


Blue Spruce

The Blue Spruce, also known as the Colorado Blue Spruce, is similar to the White Spruce except for its waxy gray-blue needles that tend to curve upwards. They are also just as prickly to touch. Make sure you wear leather gloves while handling it. White Spruce is also called the Canada Spruce, where the Blue Spruce is more of a favourite choice in the western United States.


Scots Pine

photoKevin Callan

Needles are in bundles of two, are medium length and have a slight twist to them. The upper bark has as a prominent orange colour—like a Scotsman’s hair.


White Pine

photoKevin Callan

The only pine that has its needles in bundles of five, not two. They’re soft to the touch. The outline or silhouette is a main I.D. feature. They aren’t conical but rather grow out and upwards. The needles are soft and fragrant but not sturdy enough to hold heavy ornaments.


Douglas Fir

Despite its name, it’s not a fir. The needles are more cigar shaped—like a spruce—than the flattened needles of a fir. However, they have a slightly squished appearance and much softer than a spruce. The terminal bud is cone shaped. The Douglas fir is also one of the most fragrant of Christmas trees, with a scent of citrus.