The tradition of bringing home real Christmas trees each year can be a fun bonding experience with your family. However, these fragrant, lively trees can also leave a sticky trail of sap on your car, furniture, and everywhere else.
Christmas trees such as Pines, Firs, Spruces, and Cedars secrete resinous sap as a defense mechanism against injury. Common triggers of resin or sap flow in Christmas trees are: 1) fresh wounds, 2) insect pests, and 3) fungal diseases.
If you find yourself in a sticky situation this Christmas, we are here to discuss the reasons and solutions for your tree’s dripping sap.
Table of Contents
- 1 Christmas Tree Sap: What Is It and What To Do
- 2 Clean Sap of Your Christmas Tree From any Surface
- 3 What is Christmas Tree Sap Used For?
- 4 Takeaways
- 5 Sources
Tree sap and tree resin are two different things. While all trees contain sap which supplies them with nutrients, only the Pinaceae family of trees- such as Christmas Pines, Firs, Spruces, and Cedars- produce sticky resin to protect them from pests and diseases.
Pinaceae, or the Pine family, includes 220-250 species of trees mostly found in temperate climates. Most Christmas trees fall under this category. These trees have developed a defense mechanism to immediately secrete resin anytime that they are cut or “wounded”.
Tree resin, also called ‘pitch’,’ tree gum’, ‘tar’ and mistakenly as ‘sap’ by many of us, is a sticky substance with antiseptic and healing properties. Resin can be distinguished from regular tree sap because it is thicker in consistency and it turns to a golden-red color when it hardens.
It is typical for a Pine tree to secrete sap in the Summer or Spring, or when there are changes in the internal water level or the air temperature . However, when large amounts of sap or resin are leaking out from a Christmas tree, it means that the tree has a serious underlying disease and may need help.
Both harvested and planted Christmas trees secrete sap as a way to defend themselves against threats to their health.
When Christmas trees are cut, resin stored inside the bark oozes out and covers the opening, similar to human blood clotting to protect wounds and prevent further blood loss.
Harvested Christmas trees can lose some twigs and needles from being shaken and transported. Planted conifer trees can lose branches from strong winds or animal activity. Sap or resin will start dripping from those areas, healing the tree faster and killing bacteria to prevent infections.
If your chopped Christmas tree starts to drip sap from the stump, you may wash off the sap with warm water and then immediately submerge the base. Make sure to constantly refill the water reservoir so that the sap never has time to harden which can prevent your tree from drinking.
If you have a potted Christmas tree in your backyard that starts to drip sap from some branches, trim off those branches using garden shears. Apply a pruning sealant such as the one below on the fresh cuts.
Insect pests such as the larvae of Bark Beetles and the caterpillars of Pine Moths tunnel through the bark of Christmas trees, leaving holes and damaging the trees from within. To protect themselves, Pine trees secrete resin to trap and suffocate those pests.
As resin cools off and hardens, it turns to Amber (named for its color) and fossilizes insects that have been hiding inside the bark. If you remember, the iconic mosquito which brought dinosaurs back from extinction in Jurassic Park was encased in golden amber.
To prevent your Christmas tree from dripping sap due to a bug infestation, use a mechanical shaker or a leaf blower to dislodge insects from your tree before taking it inside. You may also spray the foliage with diluted neem oil or insecticidal soap.
If a potted Conifer tree has started to drip sap due to insect activity, it will be necessary to use systemic chemical pesticides to eliminate the bugs from all parts of the tree.
Cankers and sooty mold are common fungal diseases which cause Christmas trees to leak huge amounts of resinous sap all over the trunk. There are no known treatments for Pine Cankers.
Fungal spores are spread through the wind or rain, and can enter trees through damaged openings that are caused by insects, animals, storms, or people .
When Christmas trees have browning needles from the tip of their branches or near the crown, it is usually a sign of a fungal disease . Some trees are able to fight off the disease on their own, but most infected trees die over time.
Christmas Trees that are infected with cankers and fungal diseases can have crumbling branches or trunks that can fall anytime and should be removed. Pine Cankers are also a serious threat to all pine species. To prevent its spread, symptoms must be reported to your local arborist.
The sap of Christmas trees can get everywhere. By using products to lubricate and soften the hardened sap, it is surprisingly easy to remove from your skin, hair, clothing, furniture, the floor, or your car.
Dubbed as nature’s glue , sap sticks well on wood and other natural objects but it loses its adhesive property against synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, paper towels, etc.
- Alcohol or sanitizer: Rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizers break down the sap while also killing off bacteria or dirt that might have stuck to your skin.
- Salt: Salt rubbed between the palms can slough off the sap from your hands. Moisturize with lotion afterwards to keep your skin from drying out.
- Lemon or lime: Squeeze a bit of lemon juice or apply lime essentials on parts of your skin that came in contact with sap. Wash with soap and water to remove the lemon residue and smell.
- Margarine or butter: The oil components of margarine and butter will make sap slide off any clumps of hair that might have been glued together. Make sure to rinse your hair afterwards.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise is another oily product with a creamy texture that can counter the stickiness of sap. Gently massage it on your head and rinse once the sap has come off.
- Baking soda: Baking soda can be sprinkled on the scalp. It will slowly break down the sap without harming the hair follicles.
- Liquid detergent: Detergent soap can quickly loosen the sap sticking on clothes or fabrics. Do a patch test on a hidden portion of your clothes or carpet first to make sure that the color won’t fade. Dilute the solution with lukewarm water if necessary. Wash off afterwards.
- WD-40: This oil-based lubricant works well to remove sap from carpets, fabrics, or leather seats. Spray WD-40 on the sticky areas and leave it on for 5-10 mins. Use a wet sponge or a damp towel to remove the excess product.
- Pine-Sol: With Pine oil as its main component, it only makes sense that this cleaning product can remove the sap that comes from Pine trees. Apply a few drops of Pine-Sol on a sponge and blot the sticky areas. Use a dry paper towel to wipe off the residue.
- Oils: A few drops of mineral, olive, or coconut oil on your hardwood floor can remove sticky sap. Thoroughly mop off those areas with soapy water to avoid slippery accidents.
- Acetone: Commonly used to remove nail polish, acetone can also remove sap that may have stuck to your car. Dab a cotton ball with acetone and rub it on the parts of the car with sap. Hose down the car afterwards to protect the paint.
- Household ammonia: Diluted ammonia should be used as a last resort because its vapors may be harmful to your health. Ammonia can degrease your car or floor and remove sticky sap without chipping off the paint. Make sure to wash off the residue afterwards.
The resin we see inside Christmas trees has been widely used throughout human history, and is still collected today for medicinal, aesthetic, and practical use. Fossilized resin known as Amber was found to be of value as early as the Stone Age around 5,000 years ago .
Ancient Egyptians used resin from the family of Pine trees to mummify their dead. They also used the tree sap as an adhesive for their tools and as varnish for their ornaments.
The resin of Bosswellia trees was used as a fragrance known as Frankincense, while the resin of Commiphora trees was used as a sacred anointing oil known as Myrrh. You may have heard of Frankincense and Myrrh from the story of the 3 Kings.
Pine resin became known as pitch because it burns quickly and stays hot even during damp conditions. It was used to light torches at night or start campfires in cold weather.
Resin does not dissolve in water and was therefore used as a waterproof sealant on wooden boats by ancient sea-farers.
Pine sap has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties .
In medicine, pine pitch mixed with beeswax is used as a salve to soothe irritated skin. Resin also works as a band-aid that stops the bleeding and disinfects fresh wounds. Newly harvested soft gum can be chewed to relieve sore throat. The sap can be used to draw out a splinter.
In cosmetics, the sticky sap can be used as hair removal wax. In art, hardened resin or Amber is turned into beads of multiple colors to be used as jewelry.
Turpentine is distilled Pine pitch and is used as a paint solvent, food flavouring, cleaning agent, among other things.
- All trees have sap which gives them nutrients, but only Pine trees additionally produce resin as a defense mechanism.
- Resin flows out from conifer evergreens when they are injured, attacked by insects, or infected with fungi.
- To prevent and stop Christmas trees from dripping sap, prune branches, apply a pruning sealant, use organic pesticides, and remove infected trees.
- Sap can be removed from skin and other surfaces in the home by using products to lubricate or soften the sticky material.
- Resin from Christmas trees are widely used in the fields of medicine, cosmetics, manufacturing, among others.
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