‘We are the pioneers’ N.S. prof striving to create perfect Christmas tree

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia professor is striving to create the ideal Christmas tree, inside the only research lab of its kind in the world.

Dalhousie University’s Raj Lada is the director of the Christmas Tree Research Centre in Truro, N.S., a unique lab dedicated to improving balsam fir Christmas trees.

“We are the pioneers in terms of what we have been doing,” said Lada, a plant, tree and ecophysiology professor in the school’s Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences Department.

The centre’s flagship product is the SMART Balsam, which epitomizes the quintessential Christmas tree: architecturally sound, fragrant and an able to retain its blue-green needles for up to three months.

Lada said solving industry-wide challenges, such as needle retention, is critical to the survival of the multimillion-dollar Christmas tree industry in Atlantic Canada, as it competes with other markets and artificial trees.

His interest in Christmas trees was sparked more than a decade ago, when a producer approached him after he was not paid for a shipment to British Columbia because of needle loss.

“I could see it in his eyes,” he said. “The trees had lost needles, but it looked like he had lost his life, like he had lost his business, his credibility.”

He began looking into the plight of the producer, researching shipping processes and other factors that affecting the trees during transport.

Lada then went to the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia.

“It seemed this had been a common problem all these years,” he said.

At the time, there had been no research on the physiology of post-harvest needle loss in balsam fir trees. And so, Lada took it on as his personal mission.

He brought together producers from across eastern Canada to form the Atlantic Christmas Tree Research and Development Consortium, and they devised research priorities.

The producers’ No. 1 concern: needle retention.

Eventually, Lada received a grant from Ottawa’s Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency.

Among his latest research projects is the SMART tree, which Lada believes will revolutionize the Christmas tree industry.

Lada and his team started by screening balsam firs for ideal traits, including fullness and the ability to retain needles. Genetic markers for those traits were identified.

SMART trees are now being mass produced for market.

Lada expects planting to start next year.

“They’ll look great, smell great, and they’ll also have a higher needle retention capacity,” said Lada. “Nothing will beat the SMART trees.”

The centre has also developed and licensed needle-loss prevention agents, which are applied with water.

As well, Lada’s team has created technologies for shipping and storage that can help Christmas trees remain fresh for at least two months.

Lada’s partners include provincial government departments in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“This has not being done in such a co-ordinated, consorted way in the past,” he said. “The industry has been managing the situation, but now we have solutions for it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

Advocate file photo
Man awaiting murder trial facing two new trials for breaching release conditions

Quentin Strawberry going to trial in March in connection with 2019 murder

Ecole La Prairie students and teachers dressed up in Halloween costumes and paraded by Barrett Kiwanis Place, while waving at the building’s residents in Red Deer on Friday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Ecole La Prairie students parade in Halloween costumes for Red Deer seniors

Dozens of Red Deer students put on their Halloween costumes to spread… Continue reading

Advocate file photo
Preliminary hearing set for Walmart shooting suspect

Chase Freed facing second-degree murder and attempted murder charges

Truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu walks into the Kerry Vickar Centre for his sentencing in Melfort, Sask., Friday, March 22, 2019. nbsp;A lawyer representing the truck driver responsible for the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus collision says he wants to stay in Canada once released from prison. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Truck driver responsible for Humboldt Broncos crash seeks to stay in Canada

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to multiple charges

Canada Artistic Swimming plans to ‘rip off the band-aid’ to create better environment

Canada Artistic Swimming plans to ‘rip off the band-aid’ to create better environment

North Carolina's Myles Dorn (1) celebrates a big stop with teammate Patrice Rene (5) during the first quarter of the team's NCAA college football game against Miami in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Canadian Rene appears set to return to North Carolina's lineup in time for the No. 15 Tarheels' rivalry game against Virginia and a potential all-Canadian showdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris Seward
Canadian Patrice Rene appears set to return to North Carolina’s lineup after injury

Canadian Patrice Rene appears set to return to North Carolina’s lineup after injury

Regina Pats defenceman Cale Fleury (4) tries to clear OHL Hamilton Bulldogs forward Nicholas Caamano (10) from in front of the net during third period Memorial Cup semifinal action in Regina on Friday, May, 25, 2018. The Ontario Hockey League will not have bodychecking this coming season. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of sport, confirmed the decision on Friday afternoon.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
MacLeod: No bodychecking allowed in upcoming Ontario Hockey League season

MacLeod: No bodychecking allowed in upcoming Ontario Hockey League season

Colorado Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz (39) makes the save on Minnesota Wild's Alex Galchenyuk (27) during third period NHL exhibition game action in Edmonton, on Wednesday July 29, 2020. Galchenyuk says his new team is getting a motivated player with something to prove. The forward signed a one-year, US$1.05-million contract with the Ottawa Senators in free agency earlier this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alex Galchenyuk eager for fresh start with Senators: ‘I have a lot to prove’

Alex Galchenyuk eager for fresh start with Senators: ‘I have a lot to prove’

Bayern's Alphonso Davies, right, challenges PSG's Thilo Kehrer, left, during the Champions League final soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Canadians Alphonso Davies, Will Johnson, Pat Onstad and Dwayne De Rosario are among the 134 finalists for Major League Soccer's "25 Greatest" players. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Miguel A. Lopes/Pool
Davies, DeRo join Beckham, Giovinco and others as finalists for MLS’ ‘25 Greatest’

Davies, DeRo join Beckham, Giovinco and others as finalists for MLS’ ‘25 Greatest’

Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team partners with Gibbs, Toyota

Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team partners with Gibbs, Toyota

Canadian junior men’s finalist Krats gets call to fill in on Team Gushue

Canadian junior men’s finalist Krats gets call to fill in on Team Gushue

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, Detroit Lions strong safety Duron Harmon (26), cornerback Darryl Roberts (29) and safety Jayron Kearse (42) review plays with defensive backs coach Steve Gregory and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, right, on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. The NFL is recommending that players on the sidelines who are not participating in a game or about to go on the field wear protective masks, according to a league management council memo obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Although the NFL stopped short of mandating masks for all players not on the field, it “strongly encouraged” all active players in the bench area who are not about to enter the game to wear masks while standing on the sideline and/or sitting on the bench. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
NFL recommends some sideline players wear masks during games

NFL recommends some sideline players wear masks during games

Most Read