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‘Dude, this is a bush’: He wanted a lopsided evergreen out of his yard. Some Tufts students gave it a home for the holidays.

Somerville resident Josh Rosenstock turned a pesky yard work problem into an opportunity for some Tufts undergrads to enjoy Christmas.

Tufts students Sawyer Banbury (top) and LiChai Epperson stood next to the Christmas tree that they recently brought home and decorated with beer cans.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

These days, Christmas trees don’t come cheap. The cost to have an authentic one grace your living room is up around 10 percent this season compared to last year, and it’s certainly not the first time there’s been a spike.

So maybe during this already-pricey time of year, holiday revelers could use a bargain wherever they can find one.

For Somerville resident Josh Rosenstock, 49, those holiday savings were growing in his backyard — right next to his garden shed and compost bin — in the form of a perfectly good Christmas tree.

Well, almost perfect.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, Rosenstock, an art professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, recently turned a pesky yard work problem into a way to help his neighbors. The tale of how an unwanted plant on his property became someone’s Christmas centerpiece has the makings of a Somerville holiday classic.

It all started around 10 years ago when a small evergreen sapling “spontaneously appeared” in the dirt in his Union Square backyard, Rosenstock said.


He’s not exactly sure how it got there or what type of tree it was, for that matter. Technically speaking, it wasn’t even clear that it was a tree at all.

“I don’t know the strict dividing line between a bush and a tree,” Rosenstock said.

It might be a shrub.

For a decade, he let it be and welcomed the sight of the curious “baby pine tree” sprouting behind his home.

But over time, the unidentified greenery went through a bit of a growth spurt. Seemingly unaware that it was nestled on a small patch of dirt along a paved pathway, and not in a lush forest, it reached a height of nearly 8 feet, he estimated.

“At a certain point, it became a gangly adolescent pine tree that was taking over my yard,” he said. “This summer, I decided it was time for it to go.”


He didn’t want to see it go to waste, however.

Sure, it wasn’t as sturdy as the trees for sale at local hardware stores and pop-up markets, nor was it as neat. The tree had grown slightly lopsided and had never been trimmed. He would guess that its thin, floppy branches could hold heavy ornaments, but he couldn’t say for sure.

But it wasn’t such a bad little tree, and it was starting to look an awful lot like it belonged in a living room, decorated with lights and surrounded by gifts.

Rosenstock’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so they had no use for it. But he figured one of his neighbors might be interested.

Besides, why do lawn maintenance yourself when you can have someone else do it for you?

So in late November, Rosenstock posted an image of the asymmetrical tree on a Facebook page for free Somerville items, offering it up in exchange for its removal. Tom Sawyer would be proud.

“Free Christmas tree!” he wrote. “You have to cut it down. But I will provide the saw.”

At first, there were no takers.

“The reality of actually doing it may have been a little much for some people,” he said.

Some people even pleaded with him to keep the evergreen alive, perhaps by digging it up and replanting it.

“How sad,” one person wrote, adding that, to her knowledge, the plant was “not a Christmas tree at all.”


That option wasn’t possible, however. Whether a tree or shrub — or something else — its roots were mostly buried under concrete and would be a pain to remove.

So he kept waiting for a legitimate reply.

Meanwhile, Sawyer Banbury, a Tufts University student, and his seven roommates were prepping for finals in their apartment Sunday when he came across Rosenstock’s post and felt a tug at his heart.

“I just fell in love with it,” said Banbury, 22. “It reminded me of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

The undergrads had considered buying a real tree of their own. But even splitting it eight ways, they couldn’t justify the cost.

Banbury replied to the online plea, and soon he and two friends were standing in Rosenstock’s backyard, sawing away at the base of 8 feet of holiday cheer as the season’s first snowflakes tumbled down around them.

“The whole vibe was very wholesome and warm,” Banbury said.

Josh Rosenstock’s small background evergreen tree festively decorated by its new owners. Josh Rosenstock/Sawyer Banbury

The group dragged the misshapen evergreen home into their living room, where they admired their prize. They opted not to tame its “scraggly” branches, which they found “fit perfectly in our college apartment.”

Working together, they adorned it with decorations that felt just right: one roommate’s collection of multicolored beer cans.

Not everyone was on board with their unusual, locally sourced Christmas “tree.” At least, not at first.

“Some of my housemates were like, ‘Dude, this is a bush. Why did you bring a bush into our house?’ ” Banbury said. But “they’ve warmed up to it. They were like, ‘I think I like the bush.’ ”


It’s likely the only one of its kind to be grown, harvested, and displayed all in Somerville this year — an achievement Banbury called “super rad.” They can’t wait to show it off to guests and family as Christmas approaches.

For Rosenstock’s part, while he’ll cherish the memory of the little tree, he isn’t sad to see it go.

“I don’t miss it at all,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get to my compost bin now.”

Tufts students Sawyer Banbury (left) and LiChai Epperson stood in front of the tree, decorated with beer cans. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.