After Loss of Last Two National Christmas Trees, New Tree Is Lit On the Ellipse

One tree was damaged in a storm, while the other was replaced due to transplant shock. This year's National Christmas tree was lit Thursday.

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When President Barack Obama lit the National Christmas Tree Thursday night, an annual tradition on the Ellipse south of the White House for the last 90 years, he acknowledged the tree has been "having a hard time recently."

This year's tree, a 30-foot Colorado Blue Spruce, is the third in as many years. The tree that had stood on the Ellipse since the 1970's was damaged two years ago in a storm, and its replacement died soon after due to transplant shock.

"It just goes to show, nobody's job is safe here in Washington," the president joked.

[PHOTOS: Michelle Obama Receives Christmas Tree]

The National Christmas Tree wasn't always meant to be permanent. Prior to the early 1970s, a new tree was cut every year.

President Barack Obama sings a Christmas song with daughters Malia and Sasha, first lady Michelle Obama, actor Neil Patrick Harris, and Rico Rodriguez during the annual lighting of the national Christmas tree, Dec. 6, 2012.
President Barack Obama sings a Christmas song with daughters Malia and Sasha, first lady Michelle Obama, actor Neil Patrick Harris, and Rico Rodriguez during the annual lighting of the national Christmas tree, Dec. 6, 2012.

A Balsam Fir chosen in 1923 was later replaced by a Fraser Fir. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower one year, a number of smaller trees were cut and brought to the Ellipse to represent the different states. But by the 1970s, National Park Service horticulturists were directed to plant the trees instead of replace cut ones, and the service settled on the spruce tree as the heartiest option.

[READ: Capitol Christmas Tree 'Blessed' in Secret Ceremony]

Obama said he's optimistic this year's spruce, a native to the Rocky Mountains, will last longer than its most recent predecessors.

But National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson tells Whispers that while the service will "take very serious care" of the tree, including regular testing of the soil, "a lot of it is just the tree itself."

"We don't water the trees," she says, noting that in some ways, "you leave it up to nature."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.