If you close your eyes and run your fingers along the branches of the artificial Grand Frasier Fir standing in Experience and Creative Design, you could be fooled into thinking it’s a real tree.
Even when you open your eyes, it’s a convincing conifer, considering that it is made mainly of plastic. The profile of the 9-foot-tall tree is asymmetrical, like a real tree’s would be. The needles are the right shape and size, and it’s a realistic shade of green.
But there is one major difference between this lifelike symbol of Christmas and the real thing: the price tag.
Fifteen freshly cut Frasier Firs of similar size could be purchased at Hewitt’s for about the price of this single artificial look-alike.
It’s a lot of money for one tree, but retailers say high end artificial pines are worth the investment.
“They are becoming so realistic now. You can put it up at Thanksgiving time and it’s not going to drop its needles by Christmas. Now a lot of people want them up so early that permanent is the way to go,” said David Siders, co-owner of Experience and Creative Design. His Schenectady shop has over 20 artificial trees on display, ranging from quirky foot-high saplings to striking 15-foot-high spruces. Prices can reach the $2,000 range, depending on the size, style, light counts and number of branch tips.
Today’s most realistic artificial trees have branch tips molded from polyethylene. In the past, polyvinyl chloride tips were the standard. PVC is still used to make artificial needles for the interior of most trees.
Needle shading has also become more complex. A 9-foot-tall, $1,099 Grand Noble Fir featured in the November edition of the Frontgate catalog boasts “deep green needles with subtle hints of blue-green and a slightly dusted, silvery underlayer.”
“Ours have foliage all the way down to the main stem,” Siders noted. “Discount trees, all you see is the bare wires inside because there is no foliage down inside to cover it up.”
Realism isn’t always what customers want. Black, purple, red, white and blue trees also sell, Siders noted.
“Flocked trees are also quite popular,” he said.
Faddegon’s Nursery in Latham carries Santa’s Own brand artificial trees, which buyer-manager Tris Paniccia said are excellent quality and come with a fantastic guarantee.
A combination of needles made from PE and PVC is what makes the trees look lifelike, she said.
“You can put it in a room and seriously just plug it in and fluff it and it looks like you have a tree that just came out of the forest,” she said.
Paniccia stocks trees ranging in size from 4.5 to 6 feet tall. Prices range from $219 up to $489. Taller ones, which come with a steeper price, may be ordered.
“The bottom line is you get what you pay for,” Paniccia said. “You’re not going to get a top-of-the-line tree from Wal-Mart — nothing against Wal-Mart.”
A customer favorite at Hewitt’s Garden Center in Glenville is the Tannenbaum, which has abundant tips designed to hold more ornaments and heavier ones than most artificial trees can, according to assistant manager Kristi Bridge.
The tree sells for $350 with lights and $265 without.
Some trees available at Hewitt’s have energy-efficient LED lights with multiple settings.
All trees sold at the garden center are custom made for the company, Bridge said.
Allerdice Ace Hardware in Malta sells what home decor manager Pat Edwards called “alpine trees.” The pines are tall and slender, with real wooden trunks.
“Most of the trees I see around are like your traditional balsam firs and Frasier-type trees. I haven’t seen too many of these online,” Edwards noted.
She said the trees are made with realistic materials and “put together the way a real tree would grow.”
The trees at Allerdice are similar in price to live Christmas trees. Sizes range from 4 to 7 feet and cost from $40 to $115.
When shopping for an artificial tree, Edwards recommended investing in a good quality one.
“It’ll last you a lot longer, it’ll look more realistic. Really shop around,” she suggested.
Siders said shoppers should make it a point to select trees in person.
“The best thing is just to eye it,” he said. “Just feel it, touch it. That way you can see how realistic it looks.”
Bridge suggested looking for a good warranty.
Taken care of properly, a quality artificial tree should last for years.
“Just pack it away nicely and store it correctly. Just don’t wad it up,” Siders advised.