For years, humans have been making weird trees out of bottles, stoplights, padlocks, and all manner of other materials (yes, sometimes including wood). This year, let’s celebrate some trees that were built with the blood, sweat, and tears of artists and designers, not the miraculous process of photosynthesis that put us all to sleep in science class. Take a look at eight artificial arbors that stand boldly in the face of the natural order.
TRAFFIC LIGHT TREE
The tall clump of traffic signals that stand near London’s Canary Wharf were installed in 1998 on the former home of an indigenous plane tree that had died as a result of pollution. Unlike the naturally grown tree that proceeded it, the Traffic Light Tree is more than a match for the contagions of the city. The 75 sets of lights flare up in a random pattern that is meant to mimic the chaotic rhythms of its urban surroundings, a feat that the gently swaying leaves of a real tree couldn’t hope to achieve.
Despite its unctuous moniker, the brewery-based installation known formally as the Steampunk Treehouse is a burly, metal tree that looks tougher than any ancient sequoia. Initially created as a Burning Man attraction, the 40-foot-tall fake tree is built from thick metal plates and branching girders that hold a little hut high in its boughs. After touring a few festivals, the steel tree ended up at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware where it is open to employees only. Say what you will about its crunchy origins, the Steampunk Treehouse is one hell of a party.
TUMBLEWEED CHRISTMAS TREE
This one may seem like a bit of a cheat since it’s technically made from dead bushes (which could charitably be seen as smaller trees) but Chandler, Arizona’s yearly desert tannenbaum is anything but natural. A few months before Christmas each year, city workers begin collecting the loose tumbleweeds that blow through the area. After they have around 1,000 of the dried bushes, they are mounted on a metal fir-tree-shaped frame, and the whole affair is lacquered in flame-retardant chemicals, glitter, and lights. Regular pine trees might not have the fortitude to make it in Arizona’s harsh desert climes, but that doesn’t stop the citizens of Chandler from enjoying the holiday.
Forget a treehouse, how about a treeMALL? Berlin’s Bierpinsel (literally “beer brush,” a name it received for the free beer served at its opening and its apparent resemblance to a brush) was opened in 1976 to a mixture of groans and applause from critics and locals. It was meant to resemble a tree with it’s bulbous upper portion balanced on a thin “trunk.” When in use, the structure housed restaurants and clubs, but it quickly saw many of the businesses struggle and close. As of 2006 it was closed and left abandoned. In recent years however it has been used as a massive canvas for large-scale graffiti projects. Let’s see a real tree put up with that much spray paint.
THE SINGING RINGING TREE
Standing proudly atop an English hilltop, the Singing Ringing Tree looks like a gently cascading stack of metal pipes. Much ink has been spilled over the sound of rustling leaves and creaking branches, but the SRT actually produces musical notes when buffeted by the wind. Built in 2006, the nearly ten feet tall artwork produces a somewhat cacophonous tune as the wind passes through it. It may not be a classically-composed symphony, but it sure beats a bunch of sticks banging together.
ELMER LONG’S BOTTLE TREE FARM
Oro Grande, California
More of a forest than any single tree, the life’s work of roadside artist Elmer Long is a grove of artificial trees, made of empty bottles mounted on poles. After coming into a sizable collection of empty bottles when his father passed away, Long set to creating a junkyard landscape along Route 66. Beginning in 2000 he began making his found forest, and by 2010 it had grown to include over 200 of the scrap trees. Like the Singing Ringing Tree above, Long’s creations produce a subtle symphony as the winds howls through the countless empty bottles. In addition the transparent, refractive properties of the glass make the trees shine like a colorful crystal garden in the sun. Your move, natural browns and greens.
PADLOCK TREE PARK
Running down the center of Moscow’s Luzhkov Bridge, a row of metal trees are bowing under the weight of thousands of “love locks,” left in place by couples that want to leave an unbreakable sign of their commitment in a public place. The tradition of leaving love locks can be found on bridge and fences in cities across the globe, but Russia’s answer was to build their own arbors where lovers could hand their devotional padlocks. Usually the lovers write their initials on locks before placing them on one of the trees and throwing away the key. It is unknown how many spurned romantics return to reclaim their locks, but at least it’s not as embarrassing as carving a heart in a real tree.
THE FLOWER TREE
This one’s a twofer. Not only does Lyon’s Flower Tree set out to be more beautiful than a tree, but it also put flowers to shame with ever-bright plastic blossoms. Created in 2003, the Flower Tree consists of 85 individual blossoms arranged in a bouquet atop a central stalk. While the installation was meant to be a temporary attraction, the city of Lyon took such a shine to it that they planted it permanently in the historic Place Bellecour, much to the chagrin of many who found the modern piece to clash with the otherwise staid square. Regardless, the Flower Tree remains in the face of critics, and the natural order.
This feature is adopted from Atlas Obscura.