Urban Forest wants to reverse roots

Daniel Parker
Contributing Writer

After a painful bike accident caused by a tree root, one VCU student was inspired to lead a group wanting to turn city trees upside-down.

Urban Forest, a company comprising a mixture of engineering, business and art majors, is proposing to save Richmond sidewalks by  growing city trees upside-down.

Photo courtesy of Surjan Singh

The concept of upside-down trees came from Elliot Roth, a biomedical engineering major, who had tried to get other students to take the idea up with him for the past year. The idea came to Roth after he was flung off his bike by a tree root on a long Richmond sidewalk. Roth chipped his front teeth from the fall.

During RVA Startup Weekend, an event for pitching ideas for startup companies, Roth pitched his idea of growing trees upside-down. VCU student Sarah Poole was skeptical at first but joined him to get the company started.

“We didn’t win anything at Startup Weekend,” Poole said. “But we did get a lot of motivation.”

Poole now runs Urban Forest, which is comprised of five students.

Marion, a small town in Smyth County, Virginia, has displayed interest in listening to the idea in order to rebrand the city. The mayor received the idea from Catherine Poole, a graphic designer from the town and Sarah Poole’s mother.   

“When you hear about an upside-down tree you just don’t think it’s natural,” said Sarah Poole.

photo By Brooke Marsh

Urban Forest calls the prototype for upside-down trees the arch, which works by using two metal arches planted in the ground to support a metal pot called a cistern that has the tree in it. The trees are watered by shooting a hose through

the pipes into the tree. Poole estimates that the trees would only have to be watered with this method twice a year. Urban forest has yet to finalize a prototype but the cost is believed to be around $1,500. They are currently working on a 3D printed model that will use a rosemary plant because the root system is similar to a tree.

“Our goal is to make it withstand any tree, because our mission is to incorporate natural trees already in the region.” said Poole.

According to Roth’s research, the city of Richmond pays an average of $6,000 for each tree.  These costs arise from sidewalk repairs and because one in four trees die prematurely. Roth cites his source as the Public Works Urban Forestry Audit in 2008.

Urban Forest hypothesize that trees grown upside down will double their life span and live up to 26 years. Poole believes that gravity is the reason that the lifespan of trees will increase because it will make nutrients to transport throughout the tree.

The members of Urban Forest are giving their formal pitch to the mayor of Marion in December.

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