It’s Not Easy to Become a Tree

by | Aug 15, 2022 | Articles

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Many of us have favorite trees to which we are inexplicably drawn or remember that one tree that stood at the center of our childhood experience. For me, it was a sprawling maple tree in my back yard in rural Pennsylvania. That tree was at times my mother, at times my father, and always my best friend.

It is a splendid dream to want your body to become a tree after it dies. Your body would live on in this magnificent stately form of grace and beauty that symbolically represents life itself. The images of Capsula Mundi helped to popularize the idea of becoming a tree after death. The idea for Capsula Mundi was developed in Italy by Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel. As of now, Capsula Mundi is just a concept and a work of art perhaps, but not a reality. The article “How to Become a Tree When You Die—Debunked” published by TalkDeath helps to break down the difficulties associated with becoming a tree, but I will touch upon some of these challenges here.

To begin, what funeral home or natural burial ground is going to want to wrap a dead body into a fetal position and place it into a biodegradable egg-shaped pod? In addition, the burial process, which would include digging a deep vertical grave to accommodate the pod, sounds logistically unrealistic for all involved in the burial. Here’s what the science tells us–after the root ball of the tree would be placed over the burial pod, a lot of water would need to be added to the grave to help the tree take root. If a dead body is consistently surrounded by too much water, the anaerobic environment may result in the formation of adipocere, a waxy substance around the body which prevents it from properly decomposing into soil. A dead body needs oxygen to decompose. And according to the TalkDeath article, “adding water to an environment lowers the temperature of the soil and disrupts the body’s decomposition process. Additionally, young root growth could be disrupted by the presence of the body or could push remains toward the surface as the tree grows.”

The other popular option for becoming a tree after death is to be cremated and have your human cremated remains form the foundation for the planting of a tree. There are urns on the market that offer this opportunity. If you already read our spring newsletter, then you know that cremated remains are comprised of highly alkaline pulverized bone that must be amended in order to be bioavailable or conducive to supporting plant life. Keep in mind also that new, young trees require diligent monitoring and care. How would you feel if the tree planted over the ashes of your precious loved one were to die? If the dream of giving a loved one a new life as a glorious oak fails, how might that impact your grieving process? 

In addition to being a natural burial ground, Heritage Acres is a nature preserve and an arboretum. Stewardship, land management, and reforestation efforts are handled with great thought and care. Logistically and ecologically, it’s not possible for us to accommodate the idea of using human remains, in whatever form, to plant a tree and simultaneously maintain the integrity of the sanctuary’s ecosystem. But while becoming a tree may not be the fate of you or a loved one’s body at Heritage Acres, there are other beautiful things to become—a bed of clover, meadow grasses that sway in the breeze, yarrow, and wildflowers such as spring beauty and oxeye daisy. Heritage Acres is awash with buds and blossoms to become.

We are, however, working diligently on developing plans for offering memorial trees. A memorial tree would include a marker near the base of the tree with a loved one’s dedication information inscribed on it. The memorial tree may or may not be located near the grave of the loved one at Heritage Acres. It depends on several factors including where the loved one is buried and what trees are in the vicinity, if any.

Honoring the memory of a friend or family member with a memorial tree is a thoughtful and beautifully tangible way to express your love while simultaneously supporting our planet. When we think about how many trees have been lost to wildfires in recent years, we intrinsically know that we must do everything we can to restore forests and woodlands. You will be hearing more about our plans for offering memorial trees at Heritage Acres in the future, so please stay tuned.