Forever evergreens

Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Maybe it was the way last year’s tree dried to a crisp before the Christmas wrap hit the floor. Maybe it was all those pine needles still crunching under your step come spring.

Maybe it was the Grinch.

Whatever the reason, if you’ve decided to go artificial this year, you’re not alone. When it comes to Christmas trees, a growing number of U.S. families are choosing to fake it.

A survey commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association this season found that more than half of families who will display a Christmas tree — about 56 percent — plan to go with ersatz tannenbaums.

Maybe that explains why the choices in artificials have become so mind-boggling.

We’re not just talking tall or short, fat or skinny. Options these days include green or flocked, ice or snow, cones or no. Then there are shapes: pencil, slender, medium, medium-full or full. And for the adventurous: spiral, upside-down and a half-tree that fits flush against a wall.

Artificial-tree buyers have the added pressure of knowing the tree they choose will guide their family’s Christmas celebrations for years to come.

"People will come back four or five times before choosing," said Anchorage store owner Beth Ann Shropshire, who also sells the genuine article in an adjoining nursery. "It seems it’s a very monumental decision for a lot of people."

The first pseudo-tannenbaums, marketed more than 100 years ago, came from Germany and were made from goose feathers dyed green to resemble pine branches. Authentic and reproduction "feather trees" are still sought and sold today.

But most of today’s consumers are looking for something more realistic, Shropshire said, and manufacturers are coming through.

Today’s realistic faux trees sport needles treated with a matte finish, and multicolored foliage mimicking a natural mix of old and new growth. These aren’t generic fakes; they’re counterfeit Sierra pines, Douglas firs and blue spruce.

Prices vary widely. A 7-foot prelit tree recently was on sale at Sears for $129.99, while 7 1/2-foot trees at specialty stores ranged between $200 and $500.

Shropshire rounds out her offerings with less traditional "Charlie Brown trees," including alpine styles that look like scrub spruce and an elegant tabletop sized "weeping cedar," with delicate, individually wrapped branches.

Also available, an "alpine cluster" consisting of three tall skinny trees. "They make copper and gold-colored designer trees, but it just doesn’t interest our clientele," Shropshire said.

Nostalgic? The shiny aluminum trees of the 1960s — overt fakes illuminated by revolving "color wheels" — have made a small comeback. A 5-foot aluminum tree from 1960, complete with light, carried a $120 price tag recently at the Pack Rat Mall. Store clerks didn’t anticipate discounting it; a similar one last year went quickly.

"They’re still just as ugly as they always were," said clerk Karren Petty, "but at this point in their age they’re almost bulldog-ugly," in other words, bulldog-cute.

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