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An impressive stand of 30-foot-tall queen palm trees is one of the first sights travelers will see when they stream into the concessions area at San Diego International Airport's expanded Terminal 2. But what they might not notice is that these trees, well, aren't real. They need no water. No sunlight. No trimming. No maintenance. Maybe just a light dusting of their preserved fronds once in a while.

That's because the six stately palms comprise 75 percent environmentally friendly recycled steel and other renewable materials, odorless and non-toxic composite bark, and water-based paint that contain no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Each is individually designed and engineered to be as distinctive as the real palms that visitors and residents alike love throughout San Diego. And each weighs 1,300 pounds — about the same as the real thing.

The artificial arboretum is the product of NatureMaker Inc., a Carlsbad-based firm that has been mimicking Mother Nature's treescapes for 30 years. The company has created installations of all sizes on four continents, but the SAN project is one of its largest and most prominent in San Diego County.

"To have a high visibility in our hometown means a lot to me," co-founder and president Gary Hanick said in a phone interview from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was hoping to start work on a project in Muscat in neighboring Oman.

"Our work is pretty international. In fact, we do more nationally and internationally than we do here in San Diego. We recently installed 40 palm trees in the interior atrium at the Venetian Macau Casino and Resort on the Cotai Strip in Macau, which just opened."

Palms aren't the only species NatureMaker's staff of about 25 artisans replicates.

"We provided a number of trees, logs and stumps in the main terminal for Fresno Yosemite International Airport," Hanick said. "Because it's sort of a gateway to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, we did a tie-in. There are eight main structural columns in the concourse. The columns were turned into giant Sequoia trees and in addition we created other trees that are part of these vignettes, what you might find when you go off to the park.

"We're known for very natural-looking trees. People do double-takes all the time. But we really succeed when people walk through the terminal and say, ‘Wow, they got those big trees to grow in there.' "

6225 El Camino Real, Suite 110 | Carlsbad, CA 92009 | (800) 872-1889 | www.naturemaker.com

~ By Glenn Grant, The Daily Transcript

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