The, “are artificial Christmas trees better than the real thing?” debate is as traditional as crackers, turkey and tinsel.

But recently it’s gone further than just the benefits of the natural smell of a pine over the convenience of a tree which doesn’t make a mess of the carpet.

A mysterious fungus now threatens to bring long-term price increases for Christmas trees farmed in Britain, and it has also provoked an argument as to whether artificial trees are now better value for money.

Here’s the story so far…

The cool, wet summer of 2012 brought a bumper harvest for Christmas tree farmers throughout Britain.  Unfortunately, it also saw the continuing blight brought about by a mysterious East European tree fungus known as ‘Current Season Needle Necrosis’ (CSNN).  This causes the trees’ needles to turn brown, then drop off.

Although the fungus is still only affecting a relatively small percentage of Britain’s Christmas tree crop, there are concerns that this will further contribute to steadily rising prices.

Among real-tree purists, £50+ for a seven-foot tree is a price well worth paying for the traditional aura that a Nordmann Fir brings to your home.  However, the steady growth in the sales of artificial Christmas trees over the last few years would suggest otherwise.

Real Trees the Real Deal?

Around eight million real Christmas trees are sold in Britain each year.  Of these, only half are produced on home soil.  (Surprisingly, only 100,000 are grown by the UK Forestry Commission.)

The four million shortfall is imported from various countries in Europe where Germany grows 19 million trees, France 9 million and Denmark 8 million.  The mountains around the Black Sea also produce large numbers.  It’s clear that the carbon footprint associated with importing such a large number of trees is not insignificant.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether real trees from abroad that are used for just two or three weeks of a single year are any less eco-friendly than artificial Christmas trees which last for several years.

Until recently, the argument ran that the plastics used in artificial tree manufacture were extremely harmful for the environment.  Nowadays, the use of new techniques and new materials has levelled the playing field quite considerably.

A Cut and Dried Case?

Gone are the days when plastic trees bore no resemblance to their natural counterparts.  The industrial moulding techniques developed in recent years can now create amazingly realistic trees that will impress even the experts!

The fire safety standards that apply to artificial tree manufacture are stricter than ever.  On the other hand, it’s always been common knowledge that a dried-out real tree adorned with unreliable Christmas lights will pose a serious fire risk.

For those who get a buzz from the pine-scented needles of a real tree – and who aren’t yet spooked by ever-increasing prices – it may be worth investing in at least one artificial Christmas tree.  Today’s trees look good for several years so it cuts out those annual trips to the local garden centre or grower.

And although no-one likes to complain too loudly at Christmas, research has shown that one of the main gripes about real trees is having to clear up those messy needles long after the festivities are over.

All these reasons, and more, add up to a good case in favour of the artificial Christmas tree, because for quality, realism and value for money, it’s hard to argue with the notion that ‘artificial is best’.