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Yay! Christmas is only a few days away. By now I hope you have your Christmas tree up and decorated.

Having a pine tree in your house for Christmas is believed to date back to the 1500s in Germany, and became more popular in the 1800s thanks to the English Queen Charlotte, who brought the tradition from her childhood home in Germany.

Here are some interesting facts about the pine family – Pinacea – which includes most species of Christmas trees that we’re familiar with like the Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, ponderosa pine and even the lodgepole pine.

Most share some common features. For example, instead of leaves they have needles. These needles on many types of pine trees stay green all winter, thus the name evergreen.

The needles are covered in a waxy substance that helps hold in moisture. In winter, when the ground is frozen, water is hard for trees to find, so storing water in the needles helps the trees through long winters.

Some pine trees also produce a type of antifreeze that keeps those needles from freezing in the cold. That same antifreeze is responsible for producing the wonderful pine smell that a Christmas tree produces.

Just like other trees that lose their leaves, pine trees lose needles, just not all at once. That doesn’t apply to the larch, however, a pine that does lose all of its needles in the fall.

Pine trees are believed to date back about 200 million years. The oldest member of the pine family is the bristlecone pine. Some bristlecones are more than 4,000 years old.

So enjoy your pine tree while it is decorated in your house, and the next time you walk in the forest take some time to appreciate the rare features of pine trees.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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