Every year we try countless remedies to keep our Christmas trees green longer. Perhaps putting something into the water, or applying something to the tree itself could possible prolong its life.
A bunch of grade 7 schoolgirls from Sydney, Australia have addressed this problem. Together with plant ecologists Professor Angela Moles and Dr. Julia Cooke from the University of New South Wales, the students researched the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), which is a commonly grown species for Christmas purposes in Australia.
Using five groups with 10 branches each, the girls subjected these ‘mini-trees’ to different experimental conditions, such as keeping them in containers with beer or tap water, or spraying them with hairspray. The health of the branches wasn’t assessed visually only, the students used an instrument that uses pulse light to determine how efficiently the pine needles are undergoing photosynthesis, which is converting light energy into chemical energy. Well, we’re sure it’s not a surprise, but the pine did not like drinking beer instead of water, and neither were they happy with energy drinks. However, the idea to spray the branches with hairspray brought a surprising result- the plants were healthier and stayed green longer.
One of the professors involved with the experiment speculated that this might be either because the hairspray helps the needles retain moisture better, or it might stop the branches sensing chemicals from decaying parts of the pine that would trigger more decay. The students had a great time with this project, and they will be publishing their findings into a scientific paper. The experiment was done as part of the Scientists in Schools Program run by CSIRO.
Now, as Christmas is a few days away, when you bring home your pine tree, make sure you invest in a can of hairspray too. The tree will die eventually, but it might take a bit longer than usual.