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The Four Best Alt-Christmas Trees

You could keep buying and tossing your Tannenbaum. Or you could try a festive, easy-to-decorate plant that will weather the winter.

Norfolk Island Pine
Norfolk Island Pine Photo: Michael Zajakowski

1 Norfolk Island Pine

Araucaria heterophylla
The plant:A potted conifer — basically, a miniature Christmas tree masquerading as a houseplant
Where to find:Gethsemane Garden Center (5739 N. Clark St., Andersonville), where options range from two-and-a-half-footers ($30) to nine-foot giants ($400)
Decorating tip:“You can put light ornaments on it, but the fronds are not very strong, so place them closer to the trunk,” says hothouse assistant manager Bryan Wave.

2 Autograph Tree

Clusia rosea
The plant:A lavish shrub that grows a dense crown of fleshy foliage
Where to find:The Plantier (858 N. Ashland Ave., East Ukrainian Village), where three-to-five-foot specimens start at $50
Decorating tip:Scratch messages into the waxy leaves. “Guests can leave wishes or their New Year’s goals,” says owner An Chin.

3 Umbrella Tree

Schefflera actinophylla
The plant:A low-maintenance option with graceful leaflets resembling open umbrellas
Where to find:Nonprofit retailer Seguin Gardens & Gifts (5621 W. 31st St., Cicero), where a three-foot plant costs $40
Decorating tip:“It is shrubby, so if you want a more tree-like look, prune the leaves at the bottom,” says general manager Darrel Wood.

4 Peruvian Apple Cactus

Cereus peruvianus
The plant:A thorny species that slowly shoots up as a single thick column
Where to find:The trendy Plant Shop Chicago (4601 N. Elston Ave., Mayfair), where four-to-six-foot-tall cacti go for $150 to $300
Decorating tip:“Wrap it with LED lights, which don’t produce a lot of heat,” says co-owner Ozzy Gámez. “You can even cover the plant all the way. It’s dormant during winter.”

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