Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Parks & Nature
Published on December 02, 2016
Program Lets San Franciscans Adopt Future Street Trees As Holiday TreesDominic Schultz puts an ornament on an adopted tree. (Photo: SF Environment)

Tired of throwing out your Christmas tree at the end of each holiday season, but prefer something more vibrant than an artificial one? There's a third option: adopting a living street tree to use as a Christmas tree—and then having it planted on a city sidewalk once the holidays are over.

Tomorrow, SF Environment and Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) are hosting their 10th annual "Adopt a Living Tree For Christmas" event at FUF's offices in the Presidio. Locals will be able to choose from a selection of trees, including primrose, Catalina ironwoods, small-leaf tristanias, and fern pines, to bring home and decorate for the holiday season, in exchange for a $75, tax-deductible donation to FUF. 

Adopting a living Christmas tree "is a fun and imagination-capturing way to participate in urban forest management,” said SF Environment program manager Meiling Hui, who also worked on the program while at FUF.

"Living Christmas trees are much more environmentally friendly than dead ones," added FUF executive director Dan Flanagan in a statement. "People in the Bay Area are good at rethinking tradition, and stewarding a live tree during the holidays is a great example of that in practice." 

A living Christmas tree makes its temporary home. | Photo: French by Design

While other local nurseries sell living Christmas trees, they're usually not suited for street planting in San Francisco, as they're frequently too small to meet the city's minimum planting size, and then grow up to be too large to maintain. 

FUF, which plants 1,200 street trees in San Francisco each year, specifically selects the trees in its program to meet the city's requirements, and to match requests from residents and merchants looking to have street trees planted. 

“FUF knows that [these trees] do well in the city. It’s a very different environment than in a field or a forest,” said Hui, noting that about 100 trees are adopted each year, a number that FUF hopes to increase. 

Volunteers with the Friends of the Urban Forest planted this previously-adopted tree into a city sidewalk | Photo: SF Environment

Those interested in adopting a tree can make a payment online or pick out a tree at the FUF tree lot in the Presidio on Saturday. The lot trees are available on a first-come, first-served basis; FUF will also have an ornament-making station and refreshments for visitors. 

After the holidays are over, adopters can return their trees to FUF themselves, or have them picked up for $25. Before they become city trees, the adopted trees will need to spend up to 18 months in FUF’s tree lot, growing into the larger size that they’ll need to withstand the pressures of life on the streets. Adoptive families can stay connected with FUF, and participate in the process of planting their tree once it's ready.

Eventually, the trees will end up on the streets as part of FUF’s urban tree planting program: sheltering birds and wildlife, providing shade for pedestrians, and capturing storm runoff.