Metro-East Living

Canaan Fir comes to area as a new type of live Christmas tree

Canaan Fir tree
Canaan Fir tree

Q. I have noticed this year that there is a new type of fresh evergreen being marketed as a Christmas tree. I think it is called a kannon fir, or something like that. What do you know about this type of tree?

W.W. of New Baden

A. The tree is a Canaan Fir (Abies balsamea variety phanerolepis). It is a common tree grown from Labrador to Ontario in Canada and from the coast of Maine to the higher mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

It is used mainly for Christmas tree production and not as landscape specimens.

In Missouri, Heritage Valley Tree Farm in Washington, the closest to the metro-east, has already sold out of its supply for 2016. This area is lightly hilly and has abundant moisture of the Missouri River Bottom area, which is ideal for production.

This fir was first noticed in 1909. Upon closer inspection, these trees had characteristics that resembled both a balsam and a Fraser fir.

In the 1930s, several plant taxonomists recommended that this tree should be a separate species and suggested the name to be changed to Abies intermedia to reflect the intermediate plants’ characteristics. Others recommended that the name be changed to the West Virginia Balsam Fir. But later it was called the Canaan Fir because it was found growing in a limited area of a West Virginia valley called the Canaan Valley. Today this tree is considered to be an “ecotype,” which is a group of trees that have certain characteristics caused by environmental conditions rather than genetics.

Its range is somewhat undefined from the Northeast coast to Virginia. The environment consists of a cool climate with abundant soil moisture, but with a deep, well-drained soil. The soil is also moderately to strongly acidity. This evergreen grows about one foot in height per year and in its natural setting can reach 40 to 50 feet in height.

The Canaan Fir has an unusual foliage color with lustrous dark green to bluish-green foliage with silvery stomata bands on the undersides of the needles. The needles are 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch long and curve upward to cover the upper sides of the twigs.

Q. I lost the newspaper clipping about how to care for a poinsettia plant at Christmas. Could you give the conditions again?

H. B. of Belleville

A. Poinsettia plants should be kept between 55 to 60 degrees air temperatures for the longest flower production. There should be bright light, but not near a clear window as the glass could magnify the light rays and burn the leaves. A filtered cloth would help remedy this problem.

Water thoroughly until wet and then allow the media to dry before watering again. Mist the leaves frequently during the flowering period. Keep away from hot-air ductwork and vents, which can dry out the leaves.

Things to do this week:

Rake, blow or mulch the leaves that cover the lawn or the grass may be smothered by the leaves and harbor diseases, making a new seeding for a spring chore.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to