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Pining for a Fraser fir? Missouri Botanical Garden is working to save the iconic Christmas tree | Metro

December 25, 2021


“This plant has nowhere to go. It can’t travel upslope. It can’t travel downslope,” Hall said.

The Fraser fir in the White House, and the ones sold at many Christmas tree lots, are often propagated with cuttings, or by using seeds on which not a lot of research has been done. Hall said those seeds may be hybrids, or the offspring of cultivated trees. They may be bred for different characteristics, or may not be subject to the same pressures as wild firs.

In the two years since the wild seeds were collected, researchers used an X-ray machine, often used in seed banking, to examine a sample of the seeds they collected, cleaned, dried and stored. They discovered many had not been fertilized and others were now the home of an insect that had burrowed inside, Hall said.

Only about 18% of seeds were viable, meaning that only 3,000 Fraser fir seeds were likely viable in the garden’s seed bank, Hall said.

Fraser Fir

The expedition team from Missouri Botanical Garden with colleagues from the US-Russia Botanical Exchange Program hike in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia on Sept. 20, 2019, to search for the Fraser fir and other plant species to document populations and collect seeds. Photo by Alanna Sanders.

“It’s science. I don’t want to say that this was a failure, or a disappointment. But we learned a lot about viability,” Hall said.

Hall said 3,000 seeds is a minimum to have banked for an endangered species.

“The gold standard for seed banking is 10,000 seeds … from multiple populations across its geographic range,” Hall said, to ensure genetic diversity.

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