Presented in Partnership with the WNC Farmers Market
THE ADVENTURES OF A NORTH CAROLINA CHRISTMAS TREE
A pair of Fraser firs, born and bred in Western North Carolina, will serve as the official White House Christmas trees for the next two holiday seasons.
BY ANNE FITTEN GLENN
About 20 years ago, the Church family planted a young seedling in their field of Fraser fir trees, in the fresh mountain air of their farm in Ashe County, about two hours northeast of Asheville. There it grew tall and strong, stretching more than 18 feet into the air.
Later this year, that same tree will be cut amid quite a bit of fanfare, loaded gently onto a truck and sent to the White House, where First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will welcome it and set it up as the official White House Christmas Tree, marking the unofficial start of the holiday season in the nation’s capital.
The tree is in good company. Ever since the tradition of a White House Christmas Tree started in 1966, a North Carolina Fraser fir has been chosen 16 times—more than any other variety. Just last year, the Church family’s Cline Church Nursery presented Vice President Kamala Harris with a Christmas tree after winning a state contest and then the national competition.
And for anyone looking to challenge the dominance of Western North Carolina tree farmers, it should be noted that the White House Christmas Tree for 2024 will come from Cartner Christmas Tree Farm in Newland, NC, and will be selected next year.
The Fraser is the only native North Carolina fir and grows wild above a point about 4,000 feet in a small area of the Southern Appalachians. It has a cult-like following among Christmas tree lovers for its fragrant piney scent, classic pyramid shape, sturdy branches and beautiful blue-green color.
“We take a lot of pride in the quality of our trees,” says Amber Scott of Cline Church Nursery. “North Carolina has the best growers and the best support for our industry. It’s a close-knit, community-minded industry, and we all try to promote it. North Carolina is the envy of other Christmas tree states because of this supportive network.”
Cline and Ellen Church started planting Frasers on family farmland in the 1970s. Cline Church Nursery now includes 700 acres of trees, and the business ships trees wholesale all over the country, even as far as Las Vegas. The Churches’ children, Amber Scott and Alex Church, formally joined the family business about 15 years ago, adding a seasonal garden center that’s open to the public. “Ever since the tradition of a White House Christmas Tree started in 1966, a North Carolina Fraser fir has been chosen 16 times—more than any other variety.”
The White House Christmas Tree, which must stand between 18 and 19 feet tall, is displayed in the majestic Blue Room, located on the first floor of the White House and often used for receptions and small dinners. It’s also a part of the White House that’s open to public tours.
The Cline Church Nursery has only a handful of trees that large at a time. “We usually don’t deal with trees this big,” Scott notes. “We’re going to have to figure out how to move it and to manually wrap and protect it. We will have most of our crew on hand just to carry it uphill to the trailer. There will be a lot of grunting involved, I’m certain.”
To send the fir off on its journey, the nursery will hold a celebratory cutting ceremony. The event includes tree industry and communitymembers as well as family and friends. The N.C. Department of Agriculture provides a trailer truck, wrapped with a photographic scene of Fraser firs, for the tree’s trip to the nation’s capital. “Then we bless that tree before it makes its journey to the White House,” Scott says.
The Church family, including the third generation, aged 7 to 10, will fly to D.C. for the White House welcoming of the tree that Scott’s family has nurtured since she was in high school.
“The kids are at prime ages to really make some cool memories with this,” she says.
The arrival of the official Christmas tree traditionally kicks off the White House’s holiday season. A horse and carriage delivers the tree onto the White House grounds, where Dr. Biden inspects it before it is gently set up in the Blue Room. Staff and volunteers, and perhaps even President and First Lady Biden themselves, will then decorate the tree in accordance with an annual holiday theme.
Meanwhile, next year’s White House Fraser fir awaits its turn at glory in the field at Cartner Christmas Tree Farm in Avery County. Started in 1959 by Sam and Margaret Cartner, the farm is managed by the Cartner brothers—David, Jim and Sam Jr.
The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation for the number of trees harvested and produces more than a quarter of all Christmas trees in the U.S. In the western part of the state, there is ample rainfall and ideal temperatures and climate for the trees to thrive. But as soil temperatures rise—an effect of climate change—root rot can spread to the fields. “But we plan to stay here where we grew up and keep planting trees and raising our families,” Scott says.
This is the Cline Church team’s first time chosen as Grand Champion grower, although the nursery won the title of Reserve Champion in 2022, and the family traveled to D.C. to present a 10-foot Fraser to Vice President Kamala Harris at her residence.
“The National Christmas Tree competition gets more press and media coverage than anything else in the industry,” Scott says, “and it brings a lot of attention to North Carolina and our Fraser firs.”
Get your own North Carolina Christmas Tree
at the WNC Farmers Market!
Starting in late November, the WNC Farmers Market transforms into the regional mecca for Christmas trees. It hosts more than 20 regional tree farmers, offering a stunning variety of holiday beauties—from Fraser firs to white pines.
After you choose your tree, the farmer will trim, wrap and load your tree onto your car, with ample parking just steps from the vendor stalls. There are also tons of fresh wreaths, both decorated and plain, as well as aromatic greenery, to deck the halls.
The family of Cline Church Nursery, award-winning growers of local Christmas trees.