UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

December 1, 2004

Feature Article - for release the week of December 5, 2004

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Tabletop Christmas Trees

A decorated Norfolk Island Pine

Hurricane damage to N.I.Pine

Leyland Cypress


Rosemary "Tree"

  Italian Stone Pine, (Pinus pinea)

False or Port Orford Cedar,  Elwood's Pygmy cultivar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana "Elwoodii

Some of our neighbors would love to have a full sized Christmas tree in their home this year. But, budgets may be stretched and space can be at a minimum in temporary living quarters in this post-hurricane holiday season. Others may not have the time to put up a tree this holiday season.

Whatever the reason, an alternative to full sized Christmas trees are tabletop plants that can be decorated for the holidays, offered as holiday gifts, and in some cases can be used for several years. Today’s column will give a few suggestions on selecting suitable miniature Christmas trees and how to care for them.


Norfolk Island Pines have been used for holiday decorations for many years. They have a series of layered branches, five to a layer, that are covered with short soft dark green needles. The stems are widely separated, making room for hanging decorations, but in some cases have a sparse look. This may give a "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree look, which may actually be in vogue this year.

Seedlings are well adapted to container culture, and potted plants can live for several years with minimal care. The problem with these tabletops trees is when they get too big for the container or the patio - in Florida they are often planted in the landscape. Our recent bout of hurricanes showed that they did not hold up very well in high winds, and what was left is not very attractive.

Besides their use as full sized Christmas trees, small Leyland Cypress rooted cuttings can be used as tabletop decorations as well. Their dark green smooth scale-like foliage makes an excellent contrast with red bows and a variety of other decorations. This tree is a hybrid of two West coast relatives of the redwood family.

The Leyland Cypress tabletop plant can be moved into the Florida Yard and will maintain its tight foliage and cone-shape. (A UF bulletin on its use in the landscape is available - click here. ) Be sure to choose as spot where the soil is well drained as several root diseases may occur if it stands in water.


Rosemary is a culinary herb, but  transplanted Californians may also recognize that it is used as an evergreen shrub. It can also be kept as a potted plant and pruned into many different shapes, including a traditional cone-shaped Christmas tree. Decorations can be added, and the sturdy woody stems can support heavier glass or metal ornaments with little branch droop.

Brevard County Horticulture Agent Sally Scalera wrote an excellent article on this plant last year. According to her, the distinctive aroma of rosemary can add to the scents of the holidays. To maintain the shape, trim off branches that grow outside of the desired shape, then use the cuttings for cooking, strewing on walkways to release the aroma, or even added to the grill or fireplace to release their smell. The challenge with caring for this plant is to keep it on the dry side, but not so dry that it dies of drought. Repotting may be needed as they can get rootbound, and if put outside in well drained soil it can survive most of the temperatures found here.

Italian Stone Pine is an occasionally available holiday plant. Seedlings of this true pine tree have blue-green needles. Young foliage measures about an inch long, making this young pine tree look a bit like a Colorado Blue Spruce, but without the prickly needle feel. They are native to the dry cool climates of Spain and Portugal, and have been used as a source of "pine nuts," so it is also known as the European Nut Pine

The seedlings of this tree are grown in containers and sheared for a desirable cone shape. During the holidays they can be found in garden centers and florist shops and can be purchased already decorated as a holiday gift. They too like it dry, but since they also prefer cooler temperatures, will not be successful here if planted outside in Florida's humid warm climate.  Enjoy it for the season and if you can’t mail it back to Spain, add it to the compost pile when it starts to look ragged.


False Cypress is another new tabletop Christmas tree offered by retailers, also known known as  the Lawson or Port-Orford cedar, a native of northern California and southern Oregon .   "Elwood" is the dwarf cultivar used as a tabletop tree, and  the crushed foliage has a pungent smell.  Japanese like its woodBonsai enthusiasts makes it into collectables and Europeans love it in their landscapes.  However, it will never be able to reach it's natural 60 foot height in out heat.  Again , enjoy it for the holidays, and send it on to your foreign friends or into the compost heap.



Many other plants may  be found and used as tabletop Christmas trees, but the choices above are likely to be those available and affordable alternatives for our area.  Master Gardeners can answer your questions about your Florida Yard - call or visit them on Tuesday afternoons here at our office. If you need additional information on tabletop Christmas trees, visit out webpage at http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu , or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North. Our phone number is (863) 763-6469, and you can email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu .


Anonymous.  Stone Pine,   in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  October 2004.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Pine 

Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G. Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland Cypress. ST-671 Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service,  October 1994.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/trees/CUPLEYA.pdf 

ibid.  Picea pungens: Colorado Spruce ST-612 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST453 

Kluepfel,  Marjan et.al. Leyland Cypress Problems.  Clemson University Extension Service, January 2001. http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC2004.htm 

Scalera, Sally.  Rosemary.  Cocoa: Brevard County Extension Service, December 2003. http://brevard.ifas.ufl.edu/Horticulture/rosemary_tree.htm 

Uchytil, Ronald J.  Chamaecyparis lawsoniana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).  1990. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/chalaw/all.html    

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Larry Arrington,  Dean.  Last update: 11/29/2006 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert