Following over 100 years of open range grazing, of active fire suppression, of soil disturbance for the proliferation of settlement, the Ozarks are today chocked full of Eastern red cedars. Cedars line roadsides, they populate old fields, glades, woodlands with a history of grazing, they also remain in their rightful place on blufftops and cliffs. So, with all these millions of cedar trees in the Ozarks, one may think it's easy to locate an appropriate Christmas tree.
This is my fifth year to cut down a cedar for my Christmas tree, having abandoned visiting tree farms that spray paint their pine trees in green paint, resulting in a turquoise smoke when the tree is set on fire in January. Of course, by January, my cut cedars are incredibly flammable, which may be why cedars don't make popular Christmas trees? Or it may be that to locate a good Christmas cedar tree is actually pretty difficult.
Drive anywhere in the Ozarks and you're bound to see cedars lining the roadcuts. Around Meramec River country, the cedars are tall and narrow, while around Ava glades area the cedars are fat and bushy. Regardless of their habit, a casual drive past thousands of cedars would make one think Christmas trees are ripe for sawing. But once you stop the car to inspect old field cedars, glade cedars, or even roadside cedars, you'll find that all those perfect Christmas trees aren't so perfect.
Every year it's the same search: I need a cedar that will fit into my 1995 Honda Civic, into my 1931 Craftsman bungalow, a cedar without too many bagworm casings, and then there are obvious traits that must be present that anyone visiting a tree lot will take for granted, such as a tree with only one trunk. Trunks of many cedars are often multibranching. I've had to pass over beautiful cedars because that one tree is actually three main trunks in close proximity, and I don't have a tree stand large enough for three mature trunks. Remove one trunk and you lose half the tree. If the cedars are growing close knit in big clumps, they invariably have whole sides that are basically missing needles and branches. To a degree, one can place the bare side in the corner, but that only works if the bare side isn't completely bare like so many roadside cedars can be. Ideally, find an open grown cedar in an old pasture that hasn't been mowed so many times that it has developed multiple trunks. This year's tree, taken from a friend's old field, has a curving trunk which makes the tree not quite stand up erect on its own, so the trunk is submersed in the stand with the trunk almost on its side. It's a good tree, and will make ideal kindling in a month or so...