The Amazing Tree that Would Not Leave

The Curious Multiple Lives of Crappy Plastic Foliage

We oftentimes hear miraculous stories of dogs that get lost and later return over thousands of miles to reunite with their owners. We hear of a soldier’s letter lost during combat that later finds the mailbox of a former sweetheart, now an octogenarian. The stories of the lost being found are charming and numerous.

I have my own story, a strange story of a unusual reunion.

When we moved to Florida we thought it would be nice to make our screen porch a bit tropical. We went to a craft store that was going out of business and bought an awful fake palm tree. It looked fake, it was heavy, but it was cheap. We lugged it home.

It sat on our screen porch through seasons of pollen, years of airborne swamp scum and three episodes of hurricane blown dust. It grew evil and filthy. After years of service, it had to go.

But it was in good shape, hardly a landfill worthy, and someone would give it some love.

So we cleaned it up and put it out along with a clothing donation to Goodwill. The truck came by, the worker got out, and as he lifted the heavy tree with the concrete base, he dropped it, breaking the pot. He told us that he couldn’t take it if it was damaged. The fake tree in a concrete slab were now stranded on our porch.

I got an idea. What if I took it somewhere and strategically integrated it into the landscaping? Would anyone even notice?

Late one night we put the tree in the back of my pickup and drove to Don Julio’s Mexican Restaurant by Oaks Mall in Gainesville, FL. I lifted the heavy tree out of my truck and positioned it into the landscaping, the cement base buried deep in the groundcover. It totally fit. Nobody would ever notice.

And nobody did. We’d drive by and see that stupid tree, standing majestically as the cornerstone of the landscaping. Its gently wafting palm fronds stood as a focal point, waving to us as we drove by.

But Don Julio’s was short lived. A few months later Don Julio’s closed, and the entire building was demolished, only to give rise to a fancy brewpub a few short months later.

The artificial tree was gone.


Slash-cut to 2011. A former student makes a visit to UF and we go out for dinner at my favorite restaurant — the Top, in downtown Gainesville. The place is busy and bustling, and we are lucky to get a table for two near the kitchen. As the conversations wear on I notice a familiar sight over her shoulder. Upon closer inspection I see a familiar artificial tree, the broken concrete base…. it was THE tree, alive as it ever was, now in my favorite restaurant.

I’ll never know the events that took it from a defunct Mexican restaurant to a groovy local restaurant. Probably best unknown. But I do like to visit my stupid artificial tree every time I go there. I just saw it again tonight, told the story to my friend David, and we had a good laugh.

I wonder where it will go next…

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Me and the tree November 24, 2017

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Land-grant scientist exploring ways to make better food with less input, and how to communicate science. All funding at

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