Nature’s Christmas Trees

One of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols,Joy to the Worldincludes lines that suggest both heaven and nature celebrate the feast with their songs.

What’s less well-known is that nature, too, likes to decorate its trees a bit for the holiday. Here, an Ashe juniper shows off a simple but elegant garland.

Spanish moss dripping off the limbs of this live oak doesn’t sparkle, but it drapes as gracefully as any tinsel.

Seen against a choir of salt cedar trees, this tree-sized poverty weed wears its white fluff like old-fashioned angel hair.

Even this young possumhaw brightens the day with its collection of seasonal baubles. They may decorate its branches well into the new year, but only if the birds stop nibbling at them like children at a cookie tray.

Whether you have a tree, or many, or none in your home, nature has a multitude of trees just waiting for your admiration. If you take time to seek them out, they might even invite you to join in their singing.

Merry Christmas!


Comments always are welcome.


66 thoughts on “Nature’s Christmas Trees

    1. I never would have imagined those agaves. As far as I know, the custom hasn’t made it here, yet. I did wonder how agaves could be naturally decorated, and with only a little searching, I discovered the answer. Merry Christmas to you!

  1. What a wonderful post, Linda! Thanks for reminding me of nature’s wonders and delights. We don’t have any of this in our garden here, but we have two Christmas trees, one artificial one for inside, and one live one outside, which will be planted later in January.
    A Merry Christmas and a blessed 2019 to you, Pit & Mary

    1. I have a small artificial tree inside, too. Years ago, I found one that has a double trunk and looks remarkably like an asymmetrical Texas cedar. What could be better? Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy your travel. The best walk-in-snow I ever took was in the Schwarzwald — probably my favorite memory of Germany.

      1. I’m glad you remember the Schwarzwald so fondly. My knee-deep snow memories are from my childhood in and around my hometown of (Krefeld-)Linn, when that was possible sometimes for weeks.

        1. The bookkeeper for the hospital where I worked in Liberia was from Germany. He extended an invitation to stay with his family in their traditional home. I not only remember the snow, I remember his mother getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to produce bread and rolls for our breakfast. It was part of the family routine, and one reason the bookkeeper was eager to return home for a visit.

          1. Oh, how I miss the fresh bread rolls! That’s what I’m really looking forward to with my visit to Germany this coming January. Those, and the “Aufschnitt”, the cold cuts, including Schwarzwaelder Schinken – the real one, not that strange fake stuff that goes by that name here in the US.

    1. No, I didn’t bring any possumhaw branches home. One reason was that the little tree was on a wildlife refuge, so taking away bits and pieces is frowned on. Beyond that, I’m just not a plucker or clipper any more. I cut some basketflowers last year to try drying them, and discovered that, even though they dried beautifully, they made me a little sad. I’d much rather see them blooming in their natural environment. Quirky, maybe, but so it is.

      1. Yes, that’s totally logical on the Wildlife Refuge Restrictions. (I was thinking of harvesting from ditch-grown shrubs; )
        I have Holly and many other types of decorative greenery like Red & Green Osier(Alder), Cedar, Pine, Spruce and growing here and find – especially with the way Holly grows – that many teensy, tiny little bouquets, tucked in here and there around the house, are a nice seasonal surprise: ) an amuse-bouche for the eyes and spirit; )

        1. I do have bits of nature around — dropped pine cones and bur oak acorns, red dogwood twigs, and grasses galore. And I have a small tree decorated with shells and small fossils from the hill country. Best of all, my repotted Christmas cactus started blooming yesterday, right on time — after four years of erratic, sparse flowering. Amazing what some fresh soil and some serious root pruning can do.

    1. I thought you’d enjoy that drop of Louisiana flavor. Even though we have plenty of the Spanish moss here in Texas, it always will make me think first of Baton Rouge, and then Cajun country. Good memories, for a holiday where memories are so important.

  2. There’s a hollybush next to the kitchen porch, and we hold off pruning it, until now, so we can bring the branches & red berries in. A couple of years ago, when my dad went to cut the branches, a pheasant flew out from under it and nearly gave him a heart attack, so now he looks more closely, and gives the bush a couple of pokes with a stick before he starts
    This was a wonderful idea, to show these trees with their natural decorations!

    1. I had no idea you had pheasant up there. They’re beautiful birds, but one flying out from under a bush could be — disconcerting. Still, I’d rather have a pheasant flying at me that have to contend with what I found hanging around in the Spanish moss while I was photographing it: dozens of stink bugs, snug as could be inside those strands until someone showed up to disturb them. I don’t think they were happy, although it’s a little hard to read a stink bug’s emotions.

      The Ashe juniper was going to be featured solo, until I started wondering if I might not have a few other decorated trees in my files. As it turned out, I did, and it was great fun to put them together.

  3. That Ashe juniper does look like people had decorated it, yet the draping is natural. It reminds me of a sight common along the Capital of Texas Highway here now: dozens of Ashe junipers that people didn’t even wait till after Thanksgiving this year to start decorating. The decorations include conventional ones like shiny globes but also odd ones like paper (or maybe plastic) plates. Keep Austin weird, and all that.

    1. Not so far from this tree, there’s an even larger Ashe juniper that’s heavily decorated, but with pollen. The vine garlands are much nicer, as you know.

      I remember seeing small junipers decorated along I-10 between here and San Antonio. At least in the past, those decorations tended toward tinsel garlands, although there was one near the Schulenberg exit that was hung with old boots. It was a little weird, if not Austin-level weird, but it certainly was Texan.

  4. Linda, I’ll never tire of seeing Spanish moss hanging on tree branches! That always reminds me of the south. We don’t have any here, but if one looks diligently enough, one can find beauty everywhere one looks. Merry Christmas, my friend!

    1. I was happy to find these nice, long drapes of moss. In many local spots, there’s plenty of moss, but its strands tend to be short, and not nearly so attractive as those that drape from the trees in Mississippi and Louisiana. Still, I saw Dallas found a tree to pose by, and a very attractive one at that. Merry Christmas to you all — if Domer’s home, give him my best wishes.

  5. How wonderful the selection you’ve made. Here you could add our version of mistletoe, with its lovely red blooms and a feast for the little Bird who spreads its joy.
    I’m thinking her ladyship is looking down at your tree, and maybe tinkling the tinsel a little.
    Blessings for this Season.

    1. Mistletoe certainly is a part of our Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, although during my Iowa childhood, it was considered extravagant to hang more than a stem or two of the plant. When I moved to Texas, I was astonished to see clumps the size of beachballs growing in trees. Then, my enthusiasm for the plant was tempered by the discovery that it can adversely affect its host trees. It’s always something.

      Your mistletoe seems to have a better reputation. It certainly is striking: prettier, and apparently more attractive to birds. I was amazed to find that you have ninety varieties in Australia, while we have only one. Not only that, your southwestern version (the so-called Christmas tree) is the largest mistletoe in the world. That is an impressive plant.

  6. More evidence of how you visualize all things in nature and how you look beyond, to tell a story. These are marvelous examples of all that nature has to offer. I really like the ashe juniper and the last pic of Ilex decidua with the fence post and a very old rusty nail that speaks of a bygone time and place.

    1. I really like that photo with the fence post, myself. I seem to have a thing about fence posts, particularly when they’re accompanied by some flowers, or a nice tree. One of these days I’ll have a little collection, and I’ll put together a post about posts!

      I did have fun putting this group together. For one thing, all of the trees this year have looked especially nice. Our consistent rains helped them fill out, hold their color, and put out unbelievable amounts of fruit. You hardly can turn your head without seeing a fruit-laden possumhaw or yaupon; that’s quite a Christmas gift all on its own.

    1. The trees are lovely, aren’t they? I don’t think Nature even needed to take a course in decorating — she just has a knack for it. Of course, she’s had lots of practice, too.

  7. So many trees and bushes have red berries in winter, red against evergreens, and both colors bright against the snow. Doesn’t it just seem obvious that the red and green colors of Christmas come right from nature? In the religious sensibilities of the ancients, the Holly King and the Oak King halved the rule of the year between them, each one vying for the favors of Mother Earth. The Oak King rules the waxing year, holding sway from the winter solstice to the summer solstice and the Holly King rules the waning year, holding sway from the summer solstice to the winter solstice. The last “bloodless coup” occurred December 21.

    The Spanish moss does remind me of those foil icicles we used to decorate our trees with. Nowadays, you can even knit tinsel garlands! (I restrained myself — LOL!)

    1. I don’t think there’s any question that red and green became the colors of Christmas because of their tendency to stand out in winter, and because of the role they played in the merging of pagan and Christian traditions. We call “The Holly and the Ivy” a Christmas carol, but its roots go back much farther than that. It’s the same with other traditions. Scratch a yule log, or go caroling, and you’re in a long, long line of humanity.

      Of course I had to look up ‘knit tinsel garland.’ Sure enough, there are people out there doing it — and doing much more, as a matter of fact. What really knocked my socks off were the crocheted Christmas light garlands. They really are cute — but not cute enough that I’m going to learn to crochet.

    1. Merry Christmas to you, Terry. I suspect your trees have a different sort of decoration by this time — pretty, and white. From the map I looked at, it seems as though most of the snow’s still in the mountains, but there’s surely enough for you and Buddy to have a romp or two over the holidays!

    1. Your rose even has a place in the list of favorite Christmas carols. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is such a beautiful song — like I imagine your roses to be. This version in the original German is so lovely, and is perfect for a quiet Christmas night.

    1. It’s always fun to find a new way to look at an old concept. I love conical pine Christmas trees as much as the next person, but they’re just the base for their decorations. With these, the trees are as important as the decorations!

    1. Until now, I’d not thought to connect the carol “Oh, Christmas Tree” with this post. I knew it was German, because the original title — “O Tannenbaum” — frequently is used. What I didn’t know is that a better translation would be “O, fir tree.” Originally, the song had nothing to do with Christmas, but instead compared the constancy of the evergreen with the faithlessness of a lover. It didn’t get connected to Christmas until the early 1800s.

      There are multiple English versions, of course, and one verse seems especially applicable to these trees, evergreen or not:

      O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
      How richly God has decked thee!

    1. The irony is that nature was there from the beginning: shepherds, hillsides, cattle, stars. We’re the ones who too often head off to the chaos of malls and the artificlal ‘nature’ of extravagant pageants. No matter: the Christmas afternoon walk endures. Have a good one!

  8. Lovely take on the holiday decorations. Nature has sophisticated style.
    And probably none ends up in a landfill. We should take lessons? Recycle places are telling everyone to just trash everything after Christmas as glitter, foil/metallic wrapping paper, even most ribbons are not recyclables. Sigh. Maybe back to brown/butcher paper decorated with by potato stampers and paint with straw or cotton strings next year? Hmmm – obviously simple is elegant as demonstrated by these pictures.
    Merry Christmas!!!!

    1. Has the bouncing begun? Here’s a Christmas wish: may all your leftovers be food-related, and not extra parts from some under-the-tree project!

      We’ve talked before about the paper and ribbon saving that went on in our families. We recycled with a vengeance, but not by sending off our Christmas trash to a sorter or compacter. It all went into those boxes that lurked in the attic or basement until the next year, when we’d pull out the plastic poinsettia from Aunt B’s package, and send it on the Grandma, who would save and send on, herself.

      On a sad but sweet note, in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen many of those roadside memorials to accident victims decorated. There’s one on FM2004 that’s beautifully done, with tinsel and color galore. What I especially like is that no one’s disturbed them. That’s sweet, too, and not at all sad.

    1. They’re related, yes; both belong to the genus Ilex. Yaupon is Ilex vomitoria; it keeps its leaves and berries through the winter, or until the birds strip the berries. Yaupon tea is increasingly popular, too. It’s naturally caffeinated, and quite tasty.

      On the other hand, possumhaw, Ilex decidua, loses its leaves, allowing the berry-laden limbs to really shine in the landscape. I’ve never seen possumhaw as beautiful as it is this year. Apparently conditions were just right, and the trees got busy with their fruit-making.

    1. Despite everyone’s grumping about continual rain this year, it seems to have allowed the trees and shrubs to become more than usually attractive. It’s been fun to see that variety, and record some of it.

    1. Beyond everything that’s visible in the photo, the Spanish moss had an extra little treat — dozens of leaf-footed bugs, all tucked into the strands and nearly invisible until yours truly got a little too close while looking for a good perspective. I read that they often gather together and go into diapause in the fall and winter. I’m not sure Spanish moss is the best shelter, but apparently it was good enough for that horde. I’m assuming their Christmas was as good as mine — at least, I hope it was.

      1. I had to look them up – pretty cool looking little guys! Thinking about bugs having as good a Christmas as a person really points up the mental constructs we put around things! To them, food (or maybe not if they’re pausing) and shelter and not so much more. For us, wow, think about all the hopes and wishes and complications. :-)

  9. We don’t have much in the way of festive winter color hereabouts. Some crab apple trees maintain fruit into the cold weather, but most else has dropped or been eaten. You have some nice examples and that tree load of Spanish Moss is lovely.
    Hope you had a Merry Christmas, Linda.

    1. As a matter of fact, I used my new polarizing filter for that Spanish moss photo. I was messing around and remembered what you said about it being useful for more than water and clouds. It was late afternoon, with the sun shining through from the left (you can see the effects on the upper trunks on the right) and the filter didn’t exactly change the color, but it seemed to even out the light. I took some photos without the filter, and the sunlight/shadow contrast was a little off-putting.

      Another good discovery was an orange possumhaw. I’d not seen one before, and thought at first I’d found pyracantha. Not so!

  10. I also appreciate the Spanish Moss…photo is lovely and I have always found Spanish Moss evocative and full of mystery. Sometimes I see garlands of vines and flowers on things and have taken pictures of many. Somehow I never seem to get around to showing my texture shots of which there are many. Maybe you’ve inspired a new direction for 2019? Along the shore too are garlands of aquatic plants which decorate the sand sometimes in artful ways.

    I bought a polarizing filter for my first digital camera and probably due to me not know what I was doing, it seemed to over saturate the sea shots, so I put it away. thought maybe it didn’t do for digital what it did for film. Perhaps seeing how the light is so wonderful on the moss image,perhaps I ought to learn more of on my current camera.

    I sincerely look forward to more of your lovely photography in the coming year…hopefully for all of us coast dwellers, we won’t need to do any hurricane shots in 2019!!

    1. Do you have Spanish moss in your area? I’ve never thought so, but I could be wrong. I’m sure there’s a lot I still don’t know about Florida.I remember how surprised I was to learn about the dairy industry there. As for those vines, I just found a new one a couple of weeks ago: climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens). It was happily growing right out of the water as well as on land. You may know it, as it seems to be all over Florida. The flowers are lovely, and the big, heart-shaped leaves are pretty, too.

      I learned pretty quickly about that over-saturation with the filter. I bought a B+W HTC filter, and while I hardly know how to use it, I can say that the ease of use is great. I spent a couple of hours just messing with it, picking a scene and then taking four images as I rotated the filter 90 degrees each time. It was interesting to see the differences among the photos, and to begin to get a sense of how much effect I’d applied just by looking through the lens. If you look at the post here called “Making Way,” I used the filter for that sky shot, too.

      I do hope 2019 is a little more peaceful, and that those storms stay away. You’ve had far more to contend with than we have over here — you need a storm-free season!

      1. Well one of my favourite Great Aunts lived in Clearwater Florida on the West Coast and that neighborhood had lots of Spanish Moss. I know North Florida has it. Down here in the Everglades we have other Tillandsia epiphytes besides the Spanish Moss type. Tillandsia are related to pineapple you know, not moss at all. I love the epiphytes in general anyway.

        The filter I bought is also B +W I just never went back to it. You have now inspired me to go and play with it again. I confess to spending more time trying to shoot in ‘favorable’ conditions’ to avoid the hot spots etc that I hate, but a polarizer would be a help in many situations. Plus they are fun. I guess software spoils us to a degree because we can polarize in PS if we want to. But, a perfect capture can never be overestimated.

        Me too on 2019. Although, I have to confess that listening to American politics is more disruptive to my emotional harmony than Mother Nature. Rather a strong wind than hype.

        1. I’d forgotten how many species make up the Tillandsia. T. recurvata, the so-called ball moss, is common around here. One of my goals for the coming year is to finally catch it in bloom. I’ve found it after the flowers have faded, and that was enough of a surprise. The flowers themselves are tiny blue things that would be fun to capture.

          I had to laugh — you can polarize in PS. I swear, this is going to be the year I finally get my mind around Lightroom and PS — at least, PS Elements, to start. I had Elements 14, so I went ahead and upgraded to 2019, and bought a book. I guess I could call that a resolution!

          I’m pretty careful about what I listen to. When my distress-o-meter begins to peg out, it’s time to go on to other things. “Rather a strong wind than hype” is a nice way of putting it.

          1. These programs can do so much that you’ll never get to the bottom of it. After all the time I’ve spent, I’ve only scratched the surface. What amazes me entirely is how artists can use the paint brush tools and colors to actually paint things from scratch. It is so great to have all this at our fingertips. The only limitation truly is our own imaginations. But, I am happy just to have the ability to make an image look like what I thought I saw in it to take it in the first place no matter the capture.

  11. I see you visit Brazoria NWR quite frequently, have you been to the San Bernard Oak in SBNWR?

    I must say that we don’t get down to those refuges as often as we should.

    1. I used to divide my trips between the two refuges, but then I began spending more time at Brazoria. This winter, I tried to visit the oak, but there’s been so much rain and so much flooding they’ve kept the road closed. I wasn’t inclined to slosh through water and mud for the mile it would take to get to the beginning of the path to the oak, so I’ve just passed. Some day, it will dry out.

      I did finally get the courage to ford the low water crossings and get down to the creek. I’ve got some photos from the creek at the end of the road to share in the medium future. It’s a great place.

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