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Mike Trask

Don't call them fake: They're as real as most of Las Vegas

28 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- In a city with plenty of fake statues, fake landmarks and fake body parts, the list of fakes may be growing by one.

At least one guy is selling fake palm trees in Las Vegas.

If there's one thing you'd think you wouldn't need to counterfeit in a desert, it's palm trees.

But this is Las Vegas, and if you can make a replica, that's usually at least as good as the real thing.

Tony Oltean, the proprietor of Future Yards of Las Vegas, moved to the valley last year chasing a real dream, one based on what he sees as a need for more fake stuff in a place that already has a fake Eiffel Tower, a fake Sphinx, a fake New York skyline and fake castles.

"I hate saying 'fake,'?" Oltean said. "They are artificial."

His artificial palm trees are at the Callaway Golf Center on Las Vegas Boulevard South and at a few residences scattered across the valley. In addition to the trees, Oltean can hook you up with Vegas staples such as artificial grass and plastic rocks.

The fake trees come with ultraviolet protection and are built to last for up to 20 years. They are 600 pounds of steel and fiberglass stuck into a concrete base. You pick the size and the style.

There are fake — make that artificial — coconut palms, curved-trunked coconut palms and Canary Island palms.

And like fake diamonds and fake Louis Vuitton purses, fake palm trees are cheaper than real ones. A live palm tree can cost about $7,000 — and it might die. An artificial one costs $2,800 to $4,000.

Oltean offers a logical reason why artificial trees may thrive in the desert.

"We're trying to save water," Oltean said, delivering his sales pitch. "There's a water problem out here. Just look at the lake."

That's a good idea, said Launce Rake, a spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

"You don't need water-hogging palms," he said. "There's so much vegetation that uses less water."

Fake trees don't use any.

That's part of the reason why people like Donna Johnson, who owns a 5-acre ranch in the southwest valley, are turning to companies such as Future Yards of Las Vegas. The fake trees don't run up water bills. They also don't make a mess.

"The roots of the (real) palm trees we had started lifting off the decking around our pool," Johnson said. "We also didn't like all the little seeds that get into the pool."

Fake trees, however, don't have seeds or roots.

That lack of life, however, isn't all good.

"People could create entirely artificial environments," said Doug Bennett, conservation manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "But if I'm a bird, I might not like that."

The water authority programs encourage people to replace grass with desert landscaping. But the agency aims to continue to have living things in the desert to provide essentials, such as oxygen. So it doesn't promote urban environments than are entirely man-made.

Oltean said it's no problem to mix and match. And his trees provide the same amount of shade as the natural ones.

Johnson, his customer, can vouch for that.

"You can't tell," she said. "People come into our back yard and they don't know until we tell them."

The fake trees also have fooled her pets.

Johnson's two Siberian huskies and an American Eskimo dog use them as a bathroom, just like real trees