"My great-grandma is growing into a beautiful rose bush like she always wanted to."
That's quite a testimonial, and it's just one of many for a Colorado company that is hoping to empower people to plant memorial trees and plants for their friends, family and even pets by redesigning the urn as a sustainable, biodegradable planting medium for a young seedling. Designed in conjunction with trained arborists, The Living Urn is already available through at least 250 funeral homes.
The Living Urn is more than just a biodegradable container in which you put your loved one's remains. Consisting of an attractive outer bamboo canister that can be used to store or transport the ashes until burial, a biodegradable inner urn, a proprietary "ash neutralizing agent" (their website does not specify exactly what this is), a growth mix and aged wood chips.
Also included is a young tree seedling, which is selected to be regionally appropriate according to ZIP code. Here's why the company went with seedlings, rather than just seeds:
"While other product options may provide a tree seed with their urn, this method can be complicated and cumbersome. Moreover, seed germination can be a challenge and have a high failure rate. We feel strongly that successful tree growth is of paramount importance, and that our loved ones deserve the very best. For this reason, we take great pride that we provide only premium seedlings, or baby trees, which arrive at your doorstep directly from the Arbor Day Foundation's nursery and ready to be planted and grow successfully with the Living Urn™!"
Having killed more plants, and specifically seedlings, than I care to remember, it seems like a smart move by the Living Urn folks. Given the emotional importance of a memorial tree for loved ones, it makes sense to make the process as fool-proof as possible — even for people who don't happen to have a green thumb.
Here's a video explaining how the system works:
And here's an impressive visualization of the impact Living Urn customers have had with their tree plantings:
For those who don't have access to a yard or garden, the company launched the "Memory Forest" in 2018 — a network of cemeteries and memorial parks across the U.S. where you can plant your Living Urn. If you prefer to keep your loved one's remains at home, they also sell bonsai trees and pots that you can fill with your loved one's favorite flower or plant.
How we remember our friends, family, loved ones and even pets will depend on a number of things: faith, culture, family traditions, budget, personal preferences and interests. But there can be few more universally recognized symbols of longevity and legacy than planting a tree for future generations to remember you by.
From home funerals to comparison shopping, we've already seen many ways that people are retaking control of the funeral process. The Living Urn is one more tool for people to remember those closest to them in a way that is both affordable and meaningful.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2016.