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We're Stumped

October 23, 1988

Immortal palms and carefree beech trees are on the agenda this weekend as the Interior Landscape Division of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America convenes in Los Angeles. The contention is that these plants are the ultimate answer for anyone who wants an indoor garden that needs neither light nor water.

These trees and shrubs require none of the essentials of life because they have been put in a state of suspended animation by a chemical process. One might say they have been empalmed.

"As a marketing person, I try to stay away from words like dead and embalming," Robert Hyland confessed. He heads up West Coast sales for the Weyerhaeuser Co.'s specialty plants operation with headquarters in Auburn, Wash. The forestry giant moved into this business last year and already has two trademarks to mark the operation: Inscape, for interior landscape, and Interiorized, for the patented Swedish process that does the preserving.

A competing company, Nature Preserved of America in San Clemente, also established last year, already has trees installed in a number of Marriott Hotel lobbies, in the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan, in the new United terminal at O'Hare, and is preparing to install eight 45-foot palms next year in a new Chicago high rise. "Some of them even keep their scent," Rik Mumma, chairman and president, reported.

Both companies use special chemicals that are absorbed into trees and shrubs, filling the cells with a preservative agent that also has color to compensate for color lost in the process. Curiously, the semi-tropical and tropical plants now most popular for interior displays, including the ubiquitous Ficus benjamina, do not preserve well. Nor do flowers. But palms seem ideal. So ideal, in fact, that Weyerhaeuser offers to mix and match trunks and fronds according to the whim of the interior landscape designer. For example, the fronds of an Interiorized Canary Island date palm could be attached to the trunk of a Mexican fan palm.

Both companies favor the use of their preserved trees in combination with living plants. "In combining, you have to be very careful that there is not exposure to the watering," Hyland said. "They can handle being washed."

The permanently preserved plants cost more than live plants, obviously, but Weyerhaeuser calculates a return on investment in less than two years for those who buy them because of all the problems with large living specimens in indoor plantings. Thus far, they are being sold only for commercial installations but plans are afoot to make them available for home installations as well. Combined with silk and plastic flora and Astro Turf, the Interiorized trees and shrubs would provide a complete weed-free indoor garden that needs only an occasional dusting.

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