Non-Timber Forest Products: Balsam boughs
By Natural Resources Extension educators Julie Miedtke (Itasca County) and David Wilsey (Cloquet – American Indian Programs)
Each fall, Minnesotans take to the woods to gather boughs to be clipped and woven into decorative wreaths, swags and garlands. What used to be a family activity has grown into a multimillion dollar industry. Minnesota is a national leader in the seasonal greens industry, shipping wreaths to every state in the nation and across the globe.
Wreath making provides seasonal employment to people all over Minnesota and there are many non-profit organizations such as scouts, 4-H, schools and churches that use wreath and garlands sales as a fund raising event. This short and intense seasonal industry employs thousands of people in Minnesota, and allows many ‘home based businesses’ to earn a substantial amount of income.
Northern white-cedar and balsam boughs. Flickr photo by JMiedtke.
Approximately 98% of the boughs harvested for wreaths are from the balsam fir tree, Abies balsamea. In Minnesota, bough harvesting season begins after hard frosts have “set” the needles on the branches. Other species, including northern white cedar (pictured at right) and white pine, are also gathered to create mixed wreaths.
Boughs harvested properly cause minimal harm to the tree and, in fact, can lead to more prolific branching for future harvests. On the other hand, careless harvesting can quickly deplete and degrade the resource.
More details are in the Careful Harvest Brochure and this Extension publication, but here are the highlights:
- Harvest boughs in a uniform fashion from throughout the tree rather than completely stripping boughs.
- Harvest short, clipped boughs rather than whole branches. Harvested boughs should be no larger in diameter than a pencil.
- Harvest boughs only from trees taller than 7 feet.
- Minnesota law requires a permit for bough harvesting from state lands.
Where to cut to ensure a sustainable bough harvest.