Feel guilty buying a Christmas tree? Then rent one

It might just take a Christmas miracle to deck these spindly branches with ornaments or arrange a pile of gifts around their slender, bare trunks, but they've all been snatched up, and it's hard to argue with success.

The trees, rented out by San Franciscans for $90 (Ђ75) each during the holiday season, are designed to give residents an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional firs and pines. The fruitless olives, Brisbane boxes and other trees range from 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 meters), but they're definitely not the full-bodied evergreens most Christmas revelers have grown accustomed to.

That's just fine by Stacy Collins Johnson, who said she rented a live primrose so her two children, ages 4 and 6, can help replant it in one of San Francisco's needy neighborhoods.

"I wasn't really sure how this would play out, having a nontraditional &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/2001/12/28/24666.html' target=_blank>Christmas tree in our house," said Johnson, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mother. "I thought they'd be upset, and they love it. They named the tree Charlie Green."

Like other San Franciscans participating in the program, Johnson paid to have the tree, complete with pot and soil, delivered to her home. Her family will decorate it, celebrate Christmas, and then city officials will arrange to pick up the tree and plant it in a neighborhood in need of greenery.

Every December, environmentally conscious residents of San Francisco are confronted with the choice to buy a real tree grown just to be chopped down and strung with lights or get an artificial one. Either option has its drawbacks. Environmentalists say growing real trees is a waste of valuable resources and discarding them often clogs local landfills; artificial trees often contain lead and other harmful chemicals and also usually end up in dumps.

"We call it the guilt-free option," said Mark Westlund, spokesman for the San Francisco Department of Environment, which decided to introduce the program earlier this year. "You don't have to worry about cutting down a living tree and you don't have to worry about buying a tree with petroleum materials."

Within a week of announcing the program, all 100 trees were claimed, Westlund said.

"I'm kind of an unrepentant tree hugger," said George Slack, who rented three trees for his cabinet shop. "There's something very nice about having a living piece of greenery in your living environment this time of year."

But not everyone who rents trees to be planted after Christmas fits that description, at least when it comes to those picking similar offerings elsewhere in the country.

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