Project to explore Christmas tree growth on Big Island

HILO (AP) — A project by the Hawaii Forest Institute is aiming to establish a homegrown Christmas tree industry on the Big Island by the finding the right environmental conditions for different types of coniferous trees.

Through the Aina Mauna Christmas Tree Demonstration Project, several acres of Douglas fir trees have been growing on the island since 2014, Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Friday.

Since the first trees were planted on a remote Maunakea hillside, there have been three more plantings of 600 seedlings each on state trust lands, said Heather Simmons, the executive director of the Hawaii Forest Industry Association.

Simmons said that about 95 percent of Christmas trees on the island are imported, which makes the supplies limited and raises the price. If the trees are able to be grown locally, it presents an opportunity for landowners to create a local tree market, she said.

The first trees were expected to reach sufficient size within six to seven years, Simmons said. The growth has since slowed, pushing the timeline up a year or two.

As a result, the project is expanding its scope to research different tree species that might be better suited to survive in warmer temperatures at lower elevations.

Douglas firs typically require colder temperatures, said Aileen Yeh, a horticulturist with the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center. Yeh said she has a list of about 40 other species that could be viable, including Norfolk pine, various cedars and Mexican and Italian cypress.

“I want to try to grow 100 of each species in the nursery and then give 10 or so to different landowners at different elevations,” Yeh said.