Christmas trees have emerged an unexpected source of controversy about how the Georgian government handles logging licenses for the country's forests. Given that foreign investment is critical to Georgia's economic growth campaign, officials in Tbilisi are strongly denying the accusations that a "forest mafia" controls the licensing process.
Forests cover 40 percent of Georgia's territory, or some 3 million hectares -- approximately 130,000 hectares of those forests are available for licensing, according to the government. And when it comes to Christmas trees, one tree from those forests stands in a class by itself.
The Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana), a towering evergreen native to Georgia, Turkey and Russia, is arguably Europe's most popular Christmas tree variety. Reaching heights of 61 meters in the wild, or 12-18 meters under cultivation, it is prized as a house-friendly tree, with strong needle retention and no stickiness.
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Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Elizabeth Owen is EurasiaNets Caucasus news editor in Tbilisi.