**Today’s installment of Nature in Your Backyard is brought to you by Madeleine Gonzalez, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. She’s a student in the Science Communication Seminar, led by NCSSM Dean of Science, Dr. Amy Sheck.**

I grew up in Jefferson, a small town in western North Carolina that you probably haven’t noticed, but one who’s main agricultural product you most certainly have. Jefferson, you see, is a leading producer of live Christmas trees.

In fact, from my childhood backyard, you can see rows and forests of Fraser fir and white pine trees. They are always arranged in perfect rows, and seem to be carefully cared for. Recently, I learned that the rows and branches of these holiday emblems host all kinds of biodiversity.

In addition to sourcing so much holiday joy, Christmas trees provide habitat for many critters. This includes a variety of arthropods that may occasionally hitchhike on the tree into a consumer’s home. Cinara aphids – large, black or brown in color, and often mistaken for ticks — feed on the sap of living Christmas trees and may crawl out of the branches as a cut tree dries out. Other common hitchhikers include spiders, praying mantids, beetles, and moths.

Christmas tree farms and nurseries provide an ideal environment for pollinators and insect predators. The living groundcover that growers maintain around their trees supports many species of plants and flowers that, in turn, attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Insect predators (like lacewings and ladybeetles) feast on the trees’ pests (like Cinara aphids). They provide natural pest control, decreasing the need to apply pesticides.

The important ecological role that Christmas trees play certainly does not have to end after the joys and spirits of the holiday season. In fact, you can easily recycle your tree by placing it in your yard, a safe distance from your home, of course, and allowing it to decompose naturally. It can provide shelter or a hiding place for birds and small mammals, food for moss, fungi, lichen, and small insects, and, eventually will turn into nutritious soil.

Although it is a charming accessory for our homes, Christmas cards, and family photos during the holiday season, the Christmas tree provides natural benefits all year-round.

Gonzalez headshot_croppedMadeleine Gonzalez is currently a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, completing a seminar on Science Communication. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and enjoys spending time appreciating the outdoors. Madeleine is also very interested in science and is eager to share this passion.