The world is full of of degraded land where it’s hard to grow trees. Which is a problem: To fight climate change, we need to do everything we can to rebuild forests, and maintain the ones we have.
Step forward the Cocoon tree planter from the Land Life Company, a Dutch startup. A simple biodegradable box, it allows trees to survive in more places, raising chances that seedlings will progress beyond childhood.
Made from pulp and organic waste, the cocoon has a saucer shape with a raised column in the middle. It’s placed just below the soil surface and filled with water. The tree, which grows through the center, feeds on water through bamboo wicks that run from the trough to the roots (by capillary action). The cardboard-like material is infused with insect repellent and covered in wax, so it remains intact long enough for the sapling to become established.
“The problem with degraded land is that the first foot of soil is devoid of nutrients and the sun is just burning through the soil, so there’s no water,” says Rebekah Braswell, a director at Land Life. “We’re helping the trees get through that first strata of soil during the rooting period, when the mortality rates for trees are highest.”
Braswell says the Cocoon is a better than irrigation because it encourages the trees to be self-sufficient: They’re given enough time to go deep enough to start their own root systems. Irrigation makes trees dependent on an external source of waters, so they’ll die if that source is no longer available.
In addition to the main planter, Land Life adds dried Mycorrhizal fungi to the soil to help trees pick up nutrients, and there’s a shelter so that the lower stem doesn’t dry out from the wind. The box is also covered to avoid evaporation.
Land Life’s founder, Jurriaan Ruys, recently won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, a Dutch prize for sustainability innovation. The $500,000 check will go toward three pilot projects in Mexico, Spain, and California. A new hiking trail in the Santa Monica Mountains is using Cocoons to establish 35,000 trees along the route.
The product shares similarities with the Groasis Waterboxx developed by former tulip farmer Pieter Hoff. But that growing box isn’t biodegradable and needs refilling with water now and again. The Cocoon, which costs just $9, needs watering only once, and, because it breaks down over time, it actually helps trees to grow further.
It sounds like a useful product, given that two billion hectares of land worldwide is degraded of nutrients and water.