A Kansas City plant nursery is keeping a colorful Christmas tradition alive
Family Tree Nursery has been owned and operated by the Nelson family since its founding in 1964, and has since grown to three locations in Kansas and Missouri. But one thing has remained constant: Creating flocked Christmas trees.
Christmas is a time to spruce things up at Family Tree Nursery, Jesse Nelson shared. And the business has kept a number of holiday customs through the years since Nelson’s grandfather, Ron, opened the venture in 1964.
One such tradition: flocking — or the process of spraying Christmas trees with a mixture of cellulose, cornstarch and boron to create a snow-like texture.
“A lot of people don’t flock trees anymore, but it’s something we’ve always done and something we enjoy doing. You have to have the right set up and tools; it’s a lot of work but a great reward. We definitely think it’s worth doing, and it’s given us a unique product to offer over the years,” said Nelson, who owns and operates Family Tree Nursery alongside his brother, Jonah, and father, Eric.
Flocking caught on as a popular trend in the late 1950s and 1960s, but people have been attempting to achieve a snowy look on Christmas trees since the 1800s, according to an article in Mental Floss. For Nelson and his family, customers have ventured out beyond white and requested a vast variety of colors.
“Back in the day, the colored trees were actually much more popular than the white trees,” he recalled. “At one point, we had around 65 colors. Any color you could imagine, we did it. Now, we do mainly pink and red.”
For some of Nelson’s customers, a customized flocked tree is part of their Christmas tradition, he shared.
“We have about five, six ladies who request a very specific color of pink each year,” Nelson said, smiling. “Woody is the guy up in the nursery that does most of the flocking, and he’s been flocking those pink trees for about 30 years now. He calls it, ‘Mary Martin Pink!’”
Other customers purchase flocked trees to represent their favorite sports teams, such as a Kansas City Royals blue-flocked tree or a Kansas City Chiefs red-flocked tree, or to match their company colors.
“We did a beautiful purple tree this year for a med spa down in Olathe,” Nelson said. “The woman was looking for something bright that would fit their aesthetic, and the purple tree tied it all together really nicely.”
The materials used in Christmas tree flocking are safe, Nelson said, emphasizing the nontoxic nature of the cellulose, cornstarch and boron in the flocking mixture.
“It’s all organic material, and the boron actually makes it fire retardant, so it helps the tree from being flammable,” he noted. “It also prevents you from having to put the fresh cut tree in water. Typically when you buy a fresh cut tree, you have to get it home into warm water within 30 minutes of it being cut. When you have a flocked tree, the flocking actually holds the needles onto the branches and helps retain the moisture into the tree.”
Flocked trees will also have a longer lifespan, Nelson added.
Along with flocked Christmas trees, Family Plant Nursery offers holiday themed-plant decorations, tools and more than 40 varieties of poinsettias — a flower associated with Christmas.
“A lot of people may think that there’s only red and white poinsettias, but there’s so many cool varieties and shades,” Nelson said. “There’s one called Tapestry that is like a variegated leaf with a red bloom; it’s really beautiful contrasting. There’s a series called Princettias that have really small bracts, so they just have a totally different look. Another called Mouse Ears.”
Whether someone is in the market for a new plant or a cup of coffee from Café Equinox (the cafe inside Family Tree Nursery’s Shawnee, Kansas location), Nelson ensured the community that they have a welcoming place to spend their holiday season.
“More than anything, I want to invite people in to experience the cafe and sit in the tropical oasis that is our greenhouse,” he said, noting that the greenhouse is kept between 70 to 80 degrees with a comfortable humidity. “I’d love for people to see this as an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend or family member you haven’t in a long time over this Christmas break.”
Family Tree Nursery’s greenhouse is open year-round, Nelson continued, encouraging the community to work or relax in the greenhouse when the weather outside is harsh.
“A lot of people have come into the cafe, sat in the greenhouse and then told us upon leaving that the space has helped with their seasonal depression,” Nelson shared. “If we can create this space where people can come in during the wintertime — when it’s all dead, dormant and crappy outside — and feel recharged and alive again, that’s a blessing to us.”