O Christmas trees


POSTED: Friday, November 27, 2009

The scent of Christmas trees is in the air, as the final shipments of evergreens from the Northwest coast arrive on the shores of Hawaii.

The first major shipment of 40 containers arrived on Matson in mid-November, mostly for retail store displays and the neighbor islands, while another one is due to come in tomorrow on the MV Manoa. A final shipment is coming on Dec. 5.

Matson typically ships an estimated 100,000 Christmas trees to Hawaii each year for retailers, as well as for nonprofits selling them as a fundraiser. Retail sales begin this week.

Figuring out how many trees to ship to the Hawaiian isles is a tricky guessing game every year—too many, and they'll end up sitting on a lot if they don't sell; too few, and the result is a shortage.

That's not counting the ones sent back because state agricultural inspectors found pests on the trees.

Though many mainland growers are shipping about the same number of trees this year, some have trimmed back and others brought in smaller ones than in years past due to the economic downturn.

Richard Tajiri of Christmas Trees Hawaii, which supplies major hotels and has a tent up at the Ala Moana Center parking lot, said he ordered about 10 percent fewer trees this year.

He also brought in a higher number of smaller trees, measuring 5 feet tall, though the 7-foot and 8-foot-tall trees are also available.

Tajiri, who is selling trees for the 34th holiday season in Hawaii, is offering Nordmans, Nobles and Grands at prices ranging from $50 to $75, though smaller trees can go for as little as $25.

He would have liked to have lowered prices, he said, but freight prices went up this year.

Nordmans are expected to sell well this year, according to Tajiri, who considers them the “;tree of the future of Hawaii”; because they hold up well in the climate here and were popular last year.

Ralph Nilssen, president of Kirk Co. in Tacoma, Wash., says he's sending about the same number of trees to Hawaii this year as last year via Matson.

Some retail clients waited a little longer than usual before placing orders this year, he said, due to the uncertainty in the economy, but they ultimately decided to go forward with their purchases.

“;Generally, in times where the economy has been weak, we see people rally around having a Christmas tree in their home—something they can share with their family,”; said Nilssen.

Shipments to Hawaii make up about 15 percent of Kirk Co.'s West Coast business. Kirk offers Noble, Douglas, Fraser and Grand firs.

Greg Rondeau, sales manager of Holiday Tree Farms in Corvallis, Ore., which supplies Home Depot in Hawaii, is sending at least 25 containers of Noble and Douglas firs to Hawaii this year, a little more than last year.

“;Christmas comes only once a year,”; said Rondeau. “;Hawaii's always been very good because it's very traditional. We haven't missed a beat in our shipments this year.”;

Oahu residents also can buy a Norfolk pine from Helemano Farms in Wahiawa.

Sales of the 6-foot-tall Norfolks, which start at $40, begin today. The farm will then remain open from noon to sunset on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to sunset on weekends until two days before Christmas.

It is the fifth year of tree sales for the family-run, 15-acre farm.

The Norfolks are grown locally and thus require no shipping, are easy to cut up for the green waste bin after the holidays, and also grow back after being chopped down, according to Aaron O'Brien, son of late Helemano Farms founder Mike O'Brien. They last about four to five months.

Helemano Farms' slogan this year is, “;How fresh can you get?”; Norfolk wreathes are also available for $25.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the growing sustainability movement will bring more people to Helemano Farms this year. Organizations such as Kanu Hawaii, a nonprofit, encourage people to buy a locally grown or potted Christmas tree.

While sales of the trees have gone up every year, according to O'Brien, they only make up about 2 percent of the overall Christmas tree market.

The company's goal is to one day reach 5 percent of the tree market.

Still, customers can choose from thousands of trees on the farm, ranging from 5 to 20 feet, which employees cut, wrap and load free of charge.

“;What I've found with customers is that once they get out here, they're usually hooked,”; said O'Brien. “; With 12,000 trees, they've got to find one they like.”;

Next year, Helemano will offer the popular Leyland cypress trees, which sold out last year but have a two-year growth cycle.