The Cemetery as Tree Nursery: Capsula Mundi

capsula mundi turns a cemetery into a forest

Last week, we took a look at composting as an option once we’ve passed on. Got one or two “Ewwww” responses on that; most were positive, though. One interesting question that came up: what about a spot for visiting? After all, that’s probably the main thing a cemetery offers: a permanent place associated with our loved one. My response: why not mark the spot where the compost is buried, and turn that into a memorial of some kind?

It turns out that two Italian designers not only considered this question well before me, but in much more depth. Designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel put their considerable talents to the question “How can we dispose of the dead in a much more eco-friendly manner while still taking the emotional needs of the living into account?” The concept they created: Capsula Mundi, a burial pod designed to turn our loved ones into fertilizer for a tree directly above the burial spot.

“Turn loved ones into fertilizer” makes this idea sound more focused on the environmental aspects than the emotional one, but Citelli and Bretzel argue that Capsula Mundi creates a memorial much more fitting than the typical headstone: “By planting different kinds of trees next to each other it creates a forest. A place where children will be able to learn all about trees. It’s also a place for a beautiful walk and a reminder of our loved ones.” You might argue that this concept realizes the notion that “life begets life.”

But how does it work? The “capsula” in question is an egg-shaped pod in which the body is placed in the fetal position. Made from starch plastic, the pod itself will decompose, and expose the body to underground elements. Natural decomposition then takes care of the body, releasing nutrients into the soil, and to the tree planted above.  The question for a person considering their mortality shifts from “What do you want on your headstone?” to “What kind of tree do you want to feed?”

No doubt some with still find this a little too “natural,” but if you’d like to live on after death, this is certainly one way to do it fairly literally. I love the concept; I’m not a designer, though, so feel free to offer your critiques.

via Mister Finch

Image credit: Shutterstock

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at
  • Toni Bagley

    I would love this. it wouldn’t just take nutrients from the body, but from the soil around it. nature makes use of everything to hand, no need to worry about ‘adding’ things to it, just leave it to nature. Such a beautiful way to go. i for one know that i would ‘rest in peace’ if i was part of a forest, animals flora, signifying life its self. i wouldnt want to be cremated as it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right, not natural. Burial is ok as id be returning to nature in a sense, but i feel that normal burials are wasted because we just become mud, nothing comes from it because the ‘grounds are tended’, allowing nothing to grow but grass. cemetaries look very neat and tidy, orderly, but thats not who/what i am……..But a forest…………wow. they are the places i feel totally free and at peace while i still have a pulse, i breathe in the life and stillness. I hope your fetal pods make it to reality, being curled up inside like that would be like ‘returning to the womb’ of nature, mother natures womb. <3

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  • Judy Cummings

    Yes. Great idea. I want to save trees as we have cleared half the world’s trees. The idea of a living forest as a sanctuary for human remains – great idea.

  • William knebel

    Well someone was inquiring how well would decomposing bodies feed the trees. It is a weird placement of a tree in a cemetery I passed by which raised my curiosity. I was walking among some very old military stones when in the middle of the back row of stones is the largest diameter tree I’ve seen in some time. What’s weird is at base of trunk is 3 grave stones sticking through trunk where tree simply enveloped them. The roots have to be going right through at least 3 to 4 bodies. The graves exposed enough to read reveal the graves were filled in 1930s. So somewhere after then a tree either planted or what would be stranger grew volunteer there. Again this thing is huge, I am posting pic
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/887c0daa842f96a94a972efabf708cd106fbd54d82a0ae216b7ed3518e9b47c1.jpg. This doesn’t even do it justice as had to crop down just to upload it, but I think shows possible evidence that decomposing bodies may not only fertilize trees but possibly fertilize them so well they grow unusually large and strong.