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Schoolgirls find secret to prolonging the life of a Christmas tree

Schoolgirls find secret to pro...
A class of Australian schoolgirls have discovered an easy way to keep Christmas trees greener for longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
A class of Australian schoolgirls have discovered an easy way to keep Christmas trees greener for longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A class of Australian schoolgirls have discovered an easy way to keep Christmas trees greener for longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
A class of Australian schoolgirls have discovered an easy way to keep Christmas trees greener for longer (Photo: Shutterstock)

The species of Christmas tree may vary from place to place, but for me the festive season is always associated with the aroma of the Pinus radiata (aka Monterey pine). It evokes memories that a plastic tree and pine Little Tree car freshener just can't match. Unfortunately, that olfactory experience comes at the cost of a floor covered in pine needles as the tree inevitably loses its grip on life. Now a group of Australian schoolgirls has discovered an easy way to prolong the life of the tree and keep the Christmas spirit lingering a little bit longer.

In an attempt to slow the inevitable browning of the tree and shedding of pine needles that accompanies many a Christmas, a year 7 science class from Kambala in Rose Bay, Sydney, examined different potential conditions. These included placing branches into containers of tap water, hot water, energy drink, beer, and in a container of water with the branch also sprayed with hairspray.

Their experiment saw 50 branches of Pinus radiata divided into five groups of 10 and observed for 27 days. Over this period, the photosynthetic health of the leaves was monitored using an instrument that applies a pulse of light to measure how efficiently the pine needles convert light energy into chemical energy.

"The beer and energy drinks turned out really badly," says Professor Angela Moles, an award-winning plant ecologist from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) who worked with the students on the experiment as part of the Scientists in Schools Program run by CSIRO. "The plants went brown very quickly and were not very festive at all. But the hair spray group were healthier than the control plants that were just kept in water. They even started sprouting fresh green needles."

While the experiments didn't go so far as to reveal why a dash of hairspray prolonged the life of the tree, Professor Moles theorizes the coating could prevent the plant from sensing chemicals from decaying branches that would trigger more decay, in the same way one rotten apple can turn a while bowl rotten.

"Or it may be that the hair spray simply blocks the pores in the leaves, keeping the moisture in," she says.

Whatever the reason, if you want your tree looking its greenest on Christmas Day and for a bit longer afterwards, then an investment in a can of hairspray could do the trick.

Source: University of New South Wales

Kudos to the kids and all that, but wouldn't a christmas tree covered with hairspray make it highly flammable?
Steve Smith
I suspect the hairspray the seals the pine needles slowing the loss of moisture through the needles.
hairspray was a myth also experimented by Mythbusters in 2006, that is just 8 years ago. testing preexisting popular knowledge
While awesome that kids are doing science hairspray is not new. It's been used for long enough that it was one of the "mythical" solutions that the Mythbusters used to prolong tree life in a Christmas episode a year or two ago.
You can keep needles from falling off of the Christmas tree by adding hairspray.
Declared the winner for being both the best looking and among the best in terms of controlling needle loss, though the added flammability of the hairspray to the drying Christmas tree could increase the tree’s natural fire hazard risk.
Tommy Maq
Dried hairspray isn't flammable, at least not more than a tree made of dried pitch, needles and wood.
The flammability of hairspray comes from the alcohol delivering it.
But will hairspray keep my hair from falling out?
A pine tree is already very flammable, and the dried hairspray would probably not make it more so, but do the spraying outside...
Any sealing liquid spray would likely give the same results, but say goodbye to the nice piney scent.
Since adding sugar and aspirin to the water in flower vases prolongs their freshness, it should work for pines as well.
So, don't buy a dry tree, make sure you put it in water asap, set it up away from any source of heat, and you should have a Xmas tree that will last for three weeks and more!
Merry Christmas
Harry Medway
As someone who hates to throw out the Christmas cheer, the trick we use to keep the Christmas tree alive is flat ginger-ale.
Keep feeding it fort-nightly and I guarantee your tree will be alive until at least March.
The sugar keeps it going I think, but make sure to use flat soda, as we've had early drop outs while using fresh carbonated soda. (Perhaps the carbonic acid is poisonous to fir trees?)
That being said, Bermuda (where I live) is still at 55% humidity and 70-odd degrees (21 C) so the hairspray trick (that probably keeps the water of the needles in) might still be necessary.
Further Reading: The film "Idiocracy" explores the effects of energy drinks on plants. Professor Angela Moles should have expected the trees to die.
David Earnest
Yeah the Hairspray thing My mother used to do until the lit cigarette incident in 1973. This is not new.
W Young
Hairspray? I thought that was a movie...