Thomas J. Story
The West's best greens
Some of the most beautiful conifers that supply branches for holiday decorating are native to the West's northern forests (firs, spruces, some pines). Others grow naturally in deserts (Arizona cypress) or in misty coastal areas (Monterey pine). A few come from distant places like Africa (Atlas cedar). Among our favorites, native or otherwise, are those listed below; all yield long-lasting greenery that could be used for the decorating ideas we provide.
You can buy mixed greens by the bunch at nurseries or cut sprigs from your own trees. Just remember to follow good pruning practices to preserve your tree's shape.
Arizona cypress ( Cupressus arizonica)
Native to central Arizona, this upright to pyramidal tree has scalelike branchlets that vary from green to blue-gray to silver, depending on variety.
Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
Tufted clusters of short, bluish green needles are arranged along graceful branches on an upright, pyramidal tree.
While not a true fir, Douglas fir ( Pseudotsuga menziesii) is much loved as a Christmas tree for its soft, deep green or blue-green needles, which are sweetly fragrant when crushed. True firs to consider for decorating include noble fir ( Abies procera), a popular living Christmas tree with short, stiff branches and blue-green, 1-inch-long needles; silver fir ( A. amabilis), whose dark green needles are silvery on the undersides; and white fir ( A. concolor), with bluish green, 1- to 2-inch-long needles.
Its scaly, rough-textured leaves are very long-lasting in water. For cuttings, we especially like Juniperus chinensis 'Mint Julep', a vaselike shrub with arching branches.
Many types make attractive, long-lasting cuttings. Monterey pine ( Pinus radiata) has 3- to 7-inch-long bright green needles on reddish brown branches.
Native to the West, Colorado spruce ( Picea pungens) has stiff, irregular branches with prickly needles that vary from dark green to steely blue.
Table: Handblown Edge flutes ($10 each) and chunky 3-inch-diameter disk candle-holders ($1 each) from Crate and Barrel (800/ 996-9960).
Window: Crystal Frost by Design Master ($2.55; available through Springhill Floral Supply, 800/773-2554).