Our forests cannot compete with climate change. As a report published in the Annual Review of Plant Biology explains, climate extremes like heat and drought are causing a spike in tree mortality. This is where ePlant comes in.
The start-up has designed sensors that let trees tell us what they need, and how they feel.
This work is highly necessary. Climate change has produced an increased number of tree stressors, the Annual Review of Plant Biology’s publication says. Decreased carbon uptake due to pollution or increasing temperatures, for instance, makes trees more susceptible to other potential stressors, such as drought or heat waves.
Alarmingly, the publication says:
“The vigorous dense conifer forests of the early 1990s are now only faded memories from an innocent era of vanished abundance, replaced by growing public concerns about rising drought stress and massive forest losses.”
Trees in towns and cities fare worse than those in forests. Tree Planting Non Profit The Arbor Day Foundation says that trees in urban areas tend to survive only for a few decades, due to damaging tree stressors in towns and cities.
Caring For Our Stressed Trees
The planet’s trees are screaming at us for help, several studies have found. The Cell Journal has released two publications indicating that stressed plants emit airborne sounds that can be recorded from a distance and classified, and that plants can “verbalise” stress.
Start-up ePlant’s innovative TreeTag sensor technology is changing how we collect tree data.
The company’s website explains that the start-up’s TreeTag sensors can detect the microscopic pulses of trees, which change according to heat and light. The water in the tree then reacts to these changes in such a way that the sensors detect the change as though it were a pulse.
According to Bloomberg News, TreeTags are currently being circulated among ePlant’s commercial clients, who are charged $50 annually per tag. Residential TreeTags are yet to be released, but should cost around $249 per tag, which includes a year’s worth of access to the tag’s data, after which time customers will have to pay $1.99 a month.
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Of course, this isn’t the first time technology has been used to measure plant activity. Dendrometers are devices that have long been used to measure the growth of plants by monitoring the water levels in the trunk, leaves and stem of trees.
At ePlant, though, the TreeTag sensors are unique in their ability to combine measurements of both tree movement and water levels. The sensors measure the movement of trees to evaluate their health, and use cutting edge wireless technology and a solar recharging system to remain effective in the harshest of conditions.
The TreeTags effectively monitor growth, irrigation, stress, temperature, and humidity to inform tree owners of their plants’ health by wireless connection, and have a multi-year lifespan.
As ePlant’s website says, “growth, biomechanics, and environment [are processed] into actionable insights.” In short, ePlant’s technology can tell you about a plant’s daily growth, if it’s at risk of toppling over, and help to prevent unnecessary plant stress and deaths.
Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California Patrick Brown reportedly explained that:
“It’s such a cheap and robust technology that you can instrument dozens or even hundreds of trees […] It gives you a chance to measure a whole lot more variability than you would ever get with more expensive alternatives.”
Trees Have Heartbeats, Says ePlant CEO Graham Hine
“We think of them [trees] as relatively static, but one of the realisations we had was that they actually have a pulse. They have this daily heartbeat signal, and that’s what we ended up teasing out with our sensors, and that’s what gives us an idea of how they’re doing, and how much water they have, and whether the environment is keeping them healthy or causing them problems.”
In other words, as ePlant’s website states, “we learn about the tree in the same way your doctor learns about you when they listen to your pulse.”
The technology, Hine told Szkutak and Davis, was originally intended for “researchers and scientists, and industrial users and [in] agriculture.” After a while, though, ePlant decided to tailor the device for individual usage.
“We started to look at how an individual could use a sensor to see what was going on in a tree. Understanding that heartbeat is initially daunting, but actually, eventually, […] really straightforward,” Hine says.
Hine’s focus on tree health is unwavering. He told Bloomberg News:
“The trees in our world are in trouble […] they are essential for the climate and essential for us and the planet, so we wanted to build a technology that was capable of monitoring them at scale.”
With climate change adversely impacting trees at an alarming pace, environmental start-ups like ePlant promoting sustainable products are becoming increasingly important.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Forest scene. Featured Photo Credit: Lukasz Szmigiel.