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4 Ways of Looking at a Tree

Trees make a wonderful decorations, provide great shade during those hot days, and a jungle gym for young kids, but is there anything else they can do?

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These majestic wonders can do more than just block out the sun.

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1. As a Scrooge's Nightmare

1. As a Scrooge’s Nightmare

How much glitter can one Christmas tree take? Soo Kee Jewellery of Singapore attempted to find out by adorning this 20-foot-tall sensation with tinsel, strings, and snowflakes, all made out of crystals and lights. The crowning star radiates with 21,798 diamonds, totaling 913 carats and worth $1.55 million-a record-breaking amount, the company says, for most expensive trimmings. Good thing this lavish display, erected in a mall in 2006, predated the global recession. Today, one swiped bauble could quite possibly fund an entire neighborhood’s holiday festivities.

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2. As an Art Project

2. As an Art Project

While tending to windbreak trees on his California farm in the 1920s, Axel Erlandson became an artist. Inspired by his observations of tree limbs that had naturally fused together (a phenomenon called inosculation), he began to cut and meld together different trees’ trunks and branches into a single, fantastical tree. Erlandson, who died in 1964, never shared his methods, but his works live on. “The Basket Tree,” above-the result of grafting six sycamores at 42 different points-is one of 19 of his living artworks on display at Gilroy Gardens, a theme park in California.

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3. As a Hangout

3. As a Hangout

Designer Roderick Romero created the double-decker roost above in a pair of 150-year-old linden trees. Known for his eco-friendly tree houses, Romero used local driftwood, pruned branches, salvaged barn nails, and other recycled materials to make this lofty dwelling for a family in Long Island, New York. He protected the trees by centering the weight of the structure on eight horizontal steel “limbs,” each of which can hold up to 9,000 pounds. The girders will help Romero’s hideout to withstand both nature and time-a good idea, considering its $65,000 price tag. “The tree house will last as long as the trees, which could be another 100 years,” Romero says.

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4. As a Snack

4. As a Snack

The fun starts after the holidays for the 20 elephants at the Cologne Zoo in Germany. That’s when local Christmas tree merchants send unsold evergreens through the gates for the likes of (from left) Maejuraad, 26, Kumari, 2, and Loangdaw, 19, who each get to savor one prickly treat a day. The zoo’s deer, antelope, and horses often get helpings too. The tradition, says zoo veterinarian and elephant curator Olaf Behlert, goes back two decades, and the leftovers are more plentiful all the time. “Sometimes we get so many Christmas trees that we can feed the elephants until Easter,” Behlert says.