It's almost Christmas and as the festive season starts, thousands of New Zealand families will be bringing home their Christmas trees to decorate.
There is something special about the smell of a real Christmas tree. That special thing is a chemical called beta-pinene, part of a class of hydrocarbons known as terpenes which give off a fresh woody fragrance.
As beautiful as a real Christmas tree can be, the constant dropping of needles on the floor can make owning one seem like a lot of work. However, thanks to some very dedicated tree researchers, it looks like science might have a solution.
A study published in the Australian Journal of Botany tested four treatments as potential solutions for the Christmas tree needle-drop problem.
They took several trees and made sure they had access to plenty of water at the base and stored them for a month at room temperature.
Over the month they exposed some of the trees to different fluids and monitored needle health using a chlorophyll fluorescence meter which relates to how healthy and green the tree looks.
The first solution they fed to the tree was an energy drink. Research has shown that cut flowers last longer in sugar solution than in pure water, so the scientists wanted to see if feeding the tree a sugar-laden energy drink could help it to keep its needles.
The second treatment involved pouring boiling hot water onto the base of the tree. The theory was that the hot water would dissolve the sap at the cut part of the tree which could help increase the trees water uptake over time.
The third treatment fed a diluted beer solution to the tree. Mixed with 50 per cent water this solution contained sugar, nutrients and minerals, and the researchers wondered if they might be the nutrients the tree needed (spoiler alert – they weren't).
The final treatment was to spray the tree with hairspray. As odd as it may sound, cut trees lose a lot of water and the theory was that the hairspray could potentially help prevent evaporation from the needles.
The results showed that beer and energy drinks did not help the tree to last for longer.
Adding water to the base of the tree did help, but it didn't matter if it was hot or cold water.
Surprisingly, spraying the tree with hairspray worked the best and those trees were just as healthy after a month as they were at the start of the test.
It is thought that the hairspray blocks the stomata, the small pores on the needles used for gas exchange, which reduces the amount of water lost by the tree and also helped to keep the needles stuck on to the branches.
Other research published in the aptly named journal Tree may also help to fix the problem at a commercial level.
Having discovered that ethylene - the same chemical that ripens fruit - is also responsible for the needle drop, the scientists treated the trees with a chemical called AVG which is known to interfere with ethylene.
After treatment, the trees still looked green and fresh for 87 days after being cut giving a viable future option for tree growers to sell longer lasting trees.
So, if you have just brought home your freshly cut Christmas tree, science says that the key to keeping the needles on your tree and off the ground include making sure it has access to plenty of water, storing it out of direct sunlight, not feeding it beer and giving it a festive spritz of hairspray before decorating.