Kennewick's removal of tiny 'tree' causes controversy

KENNEWICK -- A noxious 2-foot-tall weed adorned in Yuletide finery that sprouted up in an island of asphalt on Columbia Center Boulevard in Kennewick was removed by the city Wednesday, along with its Christmas presents.

The weed, called burning bush or Mexican firebrush and known as Kochia scoparia to botanists, is toxic to livestock, but it became a symbol of the Christmas spirit about a week ago when someone hung an ornament on it.

The Christmas weed soon inspired others to add decorations, even though it was inches away from speeding vehicles and surrounded by the multi-lane boulevard. Pedestrians had no access without dashing in front of traffic streaming past the region's largest shopping mall.

"Once we saw it pictured in the (Tri-City Herald), we removed it," said Pat Everham, field services supervisor for the city of Kennewick's Department of Municipal Services.

The weed had attracted too much attention and was deemed a risk for the public and the city, he said.

"Anyone entering the right of way is a hazard, so we removed it to not tempt the public," he explained.

Amy Keller and her friends were moved enough by the festive little weed to persuade Santa Claus to visit the tree and leave a few gifts Saturday evening.

"It's not fair," she cried, after learning that the tree was disrobed.

The Christmas weed quickly became a popular topic on Facebook sites for news media. And its demise prompted a rush of comments.

Katy Higgs, who is from Richland, is credited with placing the first ornament on the skinny weed sometime last week.

She wrote on Facebook that she and a friend decorated it in hopes of making just one person smile. She also said she was saddened that the ornaments and presents had disappeared, but not before others had added to the display.

"This has warmed my heart to no end: Knowing that there are so many loving people out there wanting the Christmas spirit," she wrote.

Amber Gideon's Facebook comment noted all the good that came from the decorated weed.

"The Grinch can't steal all the smiles it gave me seeing it every morning on my way to work," she wrote.

"This is terrible. Who would literally steal the Christmas spirit?" said a post from Judy Lynn Larson.

"Bet they are on Santa's naughty list," commented Jerald Kinz of Richland.

The tree, or what was left of it, drooped in the afternoon sunshine Wednesday. The top half apparently was torn off when the decorations were removed.

Kathy Schmidt posted a heartfelt message about how the Christmas weed lifted her holiday mood.

"Christmas spirit is all I have this year. I saw this on the way to work the other day and it brought a tear to my eye. It has been a hard year on me and I have been so depressed about not having much to give my daughter, I didn't even want to put up our tree," she posted Friday on Facebook.

"That's when I realized I needed to get out the decorations and like Charlie Brown make the best out of what we have," she said.

The Kennewick police dispatch center did receive a call Friday from a citizen concerned that motorists were paying more attention to the decorated weed than to driving.

"I agree big weeds are blightful and need to cleaned up, but I can assure you there was no official undecorating of the Christmas weed on Columbia Center Boulevard by this department," said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

The weed also likely was a victim of vandalism earlier in the week.

Rebecca Glidewell of Kennewick said as much in her Facebook post. She said she saw two young men jump out of a car and take presents from under the Christmas weed. "Shame" on them, she said.