Lodge pole pines amongst many Christmas tree species available in Ireland

Young lodge pole pines are not an unusual choice for household trees, writes Damien Enright

We always brought the two-metre-tall lodge pole pine that grows in a half-barrel in the yard indoors at Christmas. We’d stand it in the front hall, dress it with lights and put the presents underneath. Lodge pole pines can grow to 40 metres but they’re slow growers and the barrel also constrained its growth.

It took the indoor experience in its stride, as long as we kept it watered and sprayed. However, last summer, a haulier trucking some gravel into our yard, ran into it, so it’s currently as cracked as myself, but is recovering.

This year we’ll be visiting some of our kids in their own homes in Hertfordshire, and they’ll be providing the tree, and doing the dressing. Our lodge pole can enjoy Christmas outdoors for a change.

Young lodge pole pines are not an unusual choice for household trees, while half-grown specimens sometimes stand in majesty in city squares, all lit up, with traffic flowing around them. We used our lodge pole because it was there, left behind, as it happens, by a lodger, who previously occupied an annex.

The Linnaean name is Pinus contorta because it’s sometimes contorted, but in dense stands it grows slender and straight as a die.

This, and its light weight, led American Plains Indians to employ the trunks to support the buffalo hides that roofed their tepees (a.k.a. lodges) and also as frames for their travois, made of two poles dragged by a dog or horse with a load-bearing net slung in-between.

The tribes, following the buffalo herds across the prairies, gave up using dogs to pull the travois sleds when horses arrived in their culture. With horses, they set the poles to double purpose. When the heads of two or more were crossed and tied together on the horses’ backs, the legs became the struts of the A-frame travois carrying the tribe’s belongings, and then, untied and erected, supported the tepee roofs at night. Children often rode on the backs of the horses. These nomads were practical people but, strangely, they had no knowledge of the wheel. What can explain this cultural blind spot? Surely they noticed that logs rolled down slopes, that spherical fruits rolled, that snakes rolled?

[I refer to rolling snakes because once, in California, I saw a snake making a rapid escape from a stoat by taking its tail in its mouth, making a hoop of itself and rolling down a road verge, before ‘collapsing’ into a proper snake at the bottom and slithering away. My wife and I were hitching lifts on the road side between Stinson Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to San Francisco from Bolinas, a hippie town in Marin County, where friends had lent us a converted wooden water tower, trucked in from Arizona. I’m certain this hoop snake was not an illusion.]

In Ireland, lodge pole pines are amongst the many Christmas tree species available from some 75 producers — check the internet. Different species suit different requirements — Nordmann Fir for the classic shape and long-lasting needles, Balsam fir, for the aroma, Douglas fir, ditto, Scotch pine because its branches curve upward, good for hanging things on. There are many more for sale — while the common Norway and Sitka spruce that clothe patches of mountain remain the favourites with DIY tree fellers. However, they’re prickly and work gloves are useful when taking them on. They smell Christmassy.

After triangular shape, good needle retention is the most sought after property in Christmas trees. Buy an Irish, rather than an imported, tree because it will be fresher. Check that no needles are brown or falling. When you get it home, cut an inch off the stem with a hand saw (not a high speed electric saw), locate it away from radiators and heat sources, stand it in a bucket, fill the bucket with rocks around the trunk and pour in water; it may drink a gallon on the first day. Every day, top up the water and spray the needles. In January, cut the whole tree up and recycle it as garden waste if possible.

Now, in the cause of keeping readers informed of phenomena in our local seas, I must turn to an entirely different theme and share the news that a shoal of blue fin tuna, normally indigents of the deep oceans, were videoed west of the Old Head of Kinsale in Courtmacsherry Bay by angling boat owner Mark Gannon on his mobile phone. Blue fin tuna feeding close inshore? What’s happening at sea? I’ll try to find out.

A happy Christmas to all my readers! More on blue fin tuna in the New Year.

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