CLEARWATER — The more than 100 custom-decorated Christmas trees at the 24th annual Festival of Trees are impressive in their own way. But most would likely agree that the star attraction is "Swarovski's Christmas on the Beach," created by Johanna Bernard, owner of the Classic Boutique and Gallery in Dunedin, and her daughter Brigitte.
The tree is iced with Swarovski crystals, prisms and glittering sea life ornaments. Stylized sea grass sprouts from the top.
Professional Glazing Services of Dunedin created a mirrored, star-shaped base, which opens up to reveal more crystal pieces.
Bernard expects the donated tree to bring in about $10,000 for the UPARC Foundation.
"It's such a good cause," she said. "We've been creating trees for the event for five years."
It's donations like these from clubs, artists and businesses that make the festival such a success, said Valerie Flannigan, spokesperson for the foundation, which supports 21 group homes and a variety of services for the retarded.
The festival begins today and runs through Sunday, including Thanksgiving.
Last year's festival raised over $100,000 for the foundation and organizers hope this year will be no exception, particularly in light of the recent economic meltdown.
"It's sad. We've lost over $3-million this year due to state budget cuts," Flannigan said.
On a happier note, the Festival of Trees is a wonderland of delightfully decorated trees, wreaths, gingerbread homes and craft items. Plan to stay awhile and admire the detail and thought that went into the creations.
Tree themes include beach inflatables, mermaids, arctic seals, wine, and red hats.
A 10-foot "Feliz Navidad" tree features tissue flowers, felt sombreros, mirrored suns, and a piñata on top — all handmade.
A redneck tree is festooned with Bud Light cans, "wrestlin'" tickets, and toy rifles.
Oldsmar won the mayor's contest with its warm and hospitable cappuccino tree.
Gingerbread enthusiasts will enjoy the detail that went into creating the castles, zoos, homes and even Rockefeller Center.
Buy raffle tickets to win University of Florida and Florida State University-themed wreaths, a Swarovski bracelet and a Klein Tools Tree, valued at $1,750.
"Last year, men salivated over that tree," Flannigan said.
Browse the Sugar Plum Shoppe for handcrafted gifts such as ornaments, painted goblets, beaded cheese spreaders, Christmas stockings, quilts, and wine bottle toppers.
Children can visit with Santa and have their picture taken by a professional or their parents.
"It's a magical place to take the entire family and we hope the community will support us by attending the event and purchasing the trees," Flannigan said.