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Decorative floral greenery is a non-wood forest product with a rapidly expanding market. A wide variety of plants are harvested in conifer forests to provide a green backdrop for floral arrangements, bouquets and other household floral products, such as fern leaves. The predominant form of decorative greenery harvested from conifers is a bough. This is largely a seasonal product with highest demand being during the Christmas season (Thomas and Schumann 1992). Evergreen boughs from conifers are also a key component for cemetery and grave decorations.


In many places of the world, but particularly in North America and Europe, the most extensive use of evergreen boughs is for making wreaths. In the United States many states have sizeable wreath making enterprises. For example, in Minnesota, the bough and wreath business has about US$10 million in sales for both small- and large-scale commercial enterprises (Thomas and Schumann 1992). One plant in western Washington reportedly produces 100-150 Christmas wreaths per day between mid-October and early December and consumes more than 18 000 kg of boughs per day (Savage 1995). Other products include garlands, swags and table decorations.


In addition and in combination with several other plant species like ferns, many North American conifers produce attractive boughs. In the Pacific north-west, boughs are harvested from Abies amabilis, A. lasiocarpa, A. procera, Pinus contorta, P. monticola, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Juniperus spp., Calcocedrus decurrens and Thuja plicata (Thomas and Schumann 1992). A. procera accounts for about75 percent of the Abies bough harvest in this region. Desirable properties of this species include durability, density and colour of foliage, symmetrical branching and excellent needle retention (Murray and Crawford 1982). A. procera and Thuja plicata are the two major species harvested in terms of total tonnage per year (Schlosser et al. n.d). In eastern North America, Abies balsamea and Pinus strobus are popular species for bough harvesting. Prices paid for boughs vary according to species and quality (Thomas and Schumann 1992). Sample specifications and prices are provided in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1
Prices paid to bough harvesters for selected North American conifers
Price (US$/kg)
Abies procera
Calcocedrus decurrens
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Juniperus spp. (with ripe berries)
Pinus contorta
Thuja plicata

Source: Thomas and Schumann (1992).

In Denmark, principal species used for production of ornamental conifer foliage are Abies nordmanniana and A. procera (Salo 1995).

In Germany, Abies procera is considered to be the premium source of boughs and there is also a high demand for boughs of Pinus strobus. Other popular species include Pseudotsuga menziesii, Picea abies, Abies grandis and Chamaecyparis spp. Boughs of Thuja and Cupressus are not as popular (Ehlers 1968, 1970).

Harvesting, management and trade

Christmas greens are harvested in fall and winter, usually from October to early December. Boughs are clipped from young trees because older trees do not provide the type of branches required by the industry. Harvests are often conducted in regenerating stands and can be done as frequently as every two to three years (Schlosser et al. n.d). Boughs of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana are harvested year round (Fitzgerald 1986).

One report describes the collection and processing of boughs of Abies procera in western Washington, United States, using helicopters and refrigeration warehouses (Savage 1995). A Hughes 500 helicopter, equipped with a cable and cargo hook is used to haul baled A. procera boughs, each weighing approximately 400 kg from the harvest site to a landing where they are loaded on trucks. The helicopter is able to transport some 36 000 kg of boughs to the landing in about three hours and the boughs are delivered to a large cold storage plant where they are sorted and packaged and sold wholesale throughout the United States to florists and wreath manufacturers.

Another study in western Washington indicates that timber production and bough harvesting in Abies procera plantations can be compatible management objectives. Bough harvests can begin when the plantation is eight years old and can be sustained for up to 25 years. Open grown, sapling size trees have the best quality and greatest quantity of foliage. Stand mortality can be prevented by intermediate Christmas tree harvests but in general harvesting for boughs is more profitable than selling Christmas trees. In the study presented, bough harvesting began at age 13 and the annual harvest over a ten year period was 1 930 kg/ha/yr or about 2 kg/tree/yr. Approximately 55 percent of the trees had boughs harvested at least once. A pre-commercial thinning in this plantation at stand age 24 provided a final opportunity for bough harvesting providing an estimated yield of 12 260 kg/ha of boughs. Based on a 1980 market value of US$ 0.20/kg, the boughs resulting from the thinning were worth US$2 452/ha. A three-stage thinning procedure is suggested when combining a bough harvest with stocking control. First stage is the selection of crop trees for ultimate timber harvesting and marking trees to be removed. Secondly, bough cutters strip any marked tree of saleable boughs. In the final stage, a thinning crew can cut all marked and/or stripped trees. This paper also reports results of a similar study in Denmark where a 21-year-old stand of A. procera, harvested for 13 years for boughs, gave annual yields of 1.8 kg/tree (Murray and Crawford 1982).

A report from Germany also discusses the feasibility of managing forests to produce both timber and Christmas boughs. Pseudotsuga menziesii, Picea abies and beech, Fagus sylvatica are grown in mixed plantations. When P. menziesii is spaced at no less than 2 x 2 meter intervals, the trees yield a continuous harvest of greenery until they are pruned and thinned at about age 25. Best yields require lighting on all sides of the trees which keeps foliage from turning yellow. Harvesting of greenery begins in the fifth or sixth year after planting. Where Picea abies is grown in combination with Pseudotsuga menziesii, the former species is harvested for both Christmas trees and decorative greens. In the first ten years, these stands may produce as much as DM6 330 (aboutUS$3 500)/ha undiscounted net profit with Pseudotsuga menziesii contributing about 40 percent of the net value (Grabensted 1969).

Trade barriers in foreign markets have been a major concern of United Statesí evergreen bough marketers, especially claims of concern over possible hazards associated with the introduction of potentially destructive pests and diseases into Europe via imported boughs.

Denmark ranks first in Europe in production of greens with 7 367 ha under production, yielding 27 000 tonnes of ornamental foliage annually (Salo 1995). Major countries to which Christmas greens (boughs and Christmas trees) are exported are Germany (approximately 80-90 percent), Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands. Between 1960 and 1980, exports rose from 6 000 to more than 23 000 tonnes (Christensen 1982).

The demand for conifer boughs is especially high in Germany. As early as 1968, annual consumption of conifer greens was estimated at 5 kg/family/yr, amounting to 50 000-60 000 tonnes annually. Selected, uniform, fresh foliage in 10-kg bundles is the preferred market quantity. Major urban areas with wholesale foliage and flower markets are Hamburg, the Ruhr region, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich (Ehlers 1968).

Conifer boughs are harvested commercially in several areas of Germany. Major domestic sources are in Schleswig-Holstein and the Black Forest region (Ehlers 1968). In 1967-68 decorative greens constituted 18.4 percent of the average timber income in Schleswig-Holstein (Ehlers 1970). A report from the state of North-Rhein-Westphalia (Rau 1969) indicates that demand for forest greenery has grown steadily. Market tests in 1967 for conifer greens indicated strong consumer demand but individual suppliers could not supply the product regularly. A later report (Rau 1977) indicates that a Decorative Green Growers Association had been formed and had sponsored research on sales of decorative greens. Average household consumption of greens in North Rhein - Westphalia was estimated at 5 kg annually and total sales equalled DM16.1 million (about US$10 million).


The sacred fir, Abies religiousa, known to the people of Mexico as oyamel, abeto or arbolito de Navidad, is a large tree which forms pure, or nearly pure forests at elevations between 2 700 and 3 400 meters in the mountains of central Mexico. Like most species of Abies, this tree has fragrant foliage of a rich, green colour.

Both the scientific and common name of this tree originate from a Mexican tradition of people going into the mountains to gather the branches of this tree to decorate churches and homes during religious festivals (Fig 4.1). This practice is carried out throughout the year and during the Christmas season, bright red bows are added to the branches.

Several groves of Abies religiousa in the state of Michoacan, are the overwintering sites of the migratory monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. Each autumn, thousands of adult monarchs, from as far away as eastern Canada, migrate south to spend the winter in these groves (Ciesla 1988).

Figure 4.1: A rural resident in the State of Toluca, Mexico, returns home with boughs of Abies religiousa. Greenery from this tree is used to decorate churches and homes during religious festivals.

Another report from North-Rhein - Westphalia analyses the means for acquiring boughs for retail sales. Three major strategies are suggested: gathering greens using a companyís own personnel, contracting for green collection or obtaining greens from a wholesaler. Studies show that contracting for collection of greens is the most efficient but it is recommended that each company conduct its own analysis. Most of the work is seasonal by nature with delivery for most products from October through December. Average productivity per contracted worker per hour for gathering greenery ranges from 50 kg for finely branched greens such as those harvested from Chamaecyparis lawsoniana to 150 kg for Pseudotsuga menziesii and Pinus strobus when bundled into 5-kg packages. State forest workers were 40-50 percent less efficient than contracted workers who were paid for piece work (Möhrer 1977).

International exports in perishable greenery products could increase substantially if more efficient means of product preservation were developed for the more perishable products. Boughs must not be allowed to dry out. Foliage of some members of the family Cupressaceae (Calcocedrus, Chamaecyparis, Thuja) will sour if not kept cool and moist (Thomas and Schumann 1992). In addition, the foliage of Pseudotsuga menziesii often turns yellow after packing and it is difficult to maintain the blue colour of the foliage of Picea pungens (Möhrer 1977).



Opportunities for harvesting pine needles for mulch in south-eastern United States, where fast growing pine forests and plantations are abundant (P. elliottii, P. palustris, P. taeda), is reviewed by Beckwith et al. (1995) and Stanton and Hamilton (1993). In this region, the use of pine needles for mulches in landscaping has become popular. Consequently, the carpet of pine needles under a pine stand has become a valuable resource and harvesting and selling of pine "straw" has become a profitable enterprise for forest farmers. Since the pine mulch breaks down rapidly and must be replaced at 1-2 year intervals, there is an almost unlimited market for this product.

The needles of P. elliottii and P. palustris are long and can be readily baled. The needles of these pines provide an excellent ground cover. Pinus taeda needles are shorter and more difficult to bail but are also an excellent ground cover.

Needles fall throughout the year, but in south-eastern United States, heaviest needle shedding occurs between September and October during normal weather conditions. December, January and February are good months for gathering pine straw, provided that the bales are delivered directly to the dealer or stored under a shelter.

Pine straw is usually gathered into piles with a pitchfork or mechanical rake for bailing. Where the understory vegetation prevents the use of tractor mounted rakes, pine straw is raked and piled entirely with pitchforks. Baling pine straw is a labour-intensive process. One person loads the straw into the baler with a pitchfork and another ties the wire that binds the bale and a third person stacks the bales. A three-person crew can produce from 250 to 300 bales per day. Higher production can be achieved if partial windrows can be formed and the straw then fed into the pickup reel of the baler, where it is mechanically tied with twine. The most efficient production is attained when the straw is raked into long, clean windrows, picked up mechanically, baled and pushed out to the side. Production by this method can achieve 1 000 bales per day.

Pine straw harvesting can begin in pine plantations as early as age six when yields as high as 110 150 bales/ha, every two years, have been reported. Fifteen-year-old pine forests can yield in excess of 440 bales/ha. Vigorous young to mid-age forests will yield more pine straw that older, lower vigour forests. A low annual yield is 110 bales/ha, an average yield is 150 bales/ha and a high yield is 220 bales/ha.

Yields of pine straw can be increased through fertilization. Bales free of cones, hardwood leaves and limbs are the most desired. To produce clean bales of pine straw, stands should be free of undergrowth and debris. Mechanized bailing operations on good sites can produce 1 000 bales/day. Bales of pine straw currently sell for US$2.50 wholesale and US$4.00 retail. Many forest landowners often sell their pine straw to producers who do the raking and baling. The producer pays by the bale with prices ranging from US$0.25 to US$1.00 per bale.

Advantages of pine straw harvesting in pine forests include:

Potential disadvantages to harvesting of pine straw include:

A problem that has been encountered in this relatively new enterprise is illegal entry on private lands by pine straw harvesters. Legislation has recently been introduced into the state legislatures of the States of Georgia and North Carolina to regulate pine straw gathering. In Georgia a bill has been drafted which requires a person selling pine straw to a dealer to present a valid business license or state tax identification number. In North Carolina a bill has been drafted which would make trespassing on land used for pine straw production a crime.

Decorative baskets

Decorative baskets are made from pine needles by several indigenous forest dwelling tribes. In Nicaragua, the Misketa Indians, a tribe that inhabits areas dominated by forests of Pinus caribaea, in the Región Autónomo Atlántico Norte (RAAN) produce small baskets made from the needles of this tree. These baskets are made from long coils of pine needles approximately 0.75 cm in diameter. The coils are held together with a fine brown coloured thread. A basket, about 8 cm high and 12 cm in diameter sells for approximately US$5.00 in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua (Authorís observation) (Fig 4.2).

Figure 4.2: Baskets made from the needles of Pinus caribaea by the Misketa Indians, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

Several tribes make baskets of a similar design in southern United States. The needles of Pinus taeda are used for baskets by the Alabama and Cushatta Indians, two tribes which jointly occupy a reservation in east Texas, United States (Authorís observation). They make intricate baskets that resemble indigenous animals of the region (e.g. turtles, crawfish and skunks). Pine needles for basket construction are gathered and dried thoroughly in the sun. Before basket construction begins, the needles are soaked in warm water for at least one half hour to allow them to regain their flexibility.


In India, pine needles from which essential oils (see Chapter 7) have been extracted are known as "pine wool." This material has been used for stuffing mattresses, upholstery and coarse matting (Maheshwari and Konar 1971). Pine needles are also used as packing for apples in Northern India (P. Vantomme, FAO, Rome, personal communication).

In Germany and other European countries, it was once a common practice in conifer stands to gather needles of Pines and/or other conifers like Picea abies from the forest floor to use in barns as bedding for livestock or as organic material for agriculture croplands or for preparing compost for the cultivation of flowers, such as Azaleas. In Lithuania, from 1962 to 1990, meal produced from pine and spruce needles was used as an admixture to cattle fodder (Rutkauskas A. 1998).

The fragrant foliage of Abies balsamea is used as stuffing for souvenir pillows which are often sold in curio shops (Tang-Shui Liu 1971).

The Thomson and Lilloet Interior Salish people of the interior regions of British Columbia, Canada, used conifer boughs as scrubbers and scents in washing the body or sweat bathing during puberty rites, in preparation for hunting or shamanistic healing (Turner 1988). The Sannish Indians, a branch of the Coastal Salish which occupied Vancouver Island, British Columbia, hung the highly scented branches of Juniperus scopulorum around the walls of houses when people became ill in order to drive away the disease (Turner and Bell 1971).

The foliage of several species of Taxus are potentially important sources of taxol or analogues of taxol, a drug that is effective in treating certain types of cancer (see Chapter 5 for details).

An extract from the foliage of Ginkgo biloba, designated as EGb 761, has been used in Europe to alleviate symptoms associated with cognitive disorders. Recently, a study was conducted in the United States that suggests that this extract appears capable of stabilizing and sometimes improving the cognitive performance and social functioning of patients suffering from mild to severe dementia due to Alzheimer disease (LeBars et al. 1997).

6/. Information obtained from the Georgia House of Representatives and the North Carolina General Assembly via the World Wide Web.
7/. Information obtained from Tara Prindle, University of Connecticut, Storrs CT, USA via the World Wide Web.

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