Sometimes, we find inspiration from nature in odd places — giraffe mucus, hippo sweat, whale fins, gecko feet. Pieter Hoff found it in animal droppings. An inventor, gardener, and retired flower exporter, Hoff developed a planting technology called Groasis that includes the Waterboxx. In his travels, he noticed that in areas with degraded soils caused by deforestation, desertification, or erosion, getting trees and shrubs to grow again can be next to impossible. Many of these areas have insufficient water to support seedlings during their first crucial months of life.
Hoff recognized that it’s possible to grow trees, shrubs, and vegetables on difficult sites if you can just get them started. The key is to support plants in the very early stages while they grow primary roots strong enough to force their way through hard and rocky soil to reach moisture. The Waterboxx provides the conditions needed for seeds to germinate.
Hoff based his technology on principles learned from animals that ingest fruits and excrete the seeds on top of the soil — animals like birds, bats, and elephants. The surrounding feces provide nutrients and water-retaining cover while the seed develops its first root and grows downward, following the soil’s natural capillary channels to tap into the water they contain. Plants also condense water out of the air and make use of any available rainwater.
The Waterboxx emulates these principles and applies them to both seeds and seedlings. The Groasis technology, like an animal dropping, prevents the soil’s capillary channels from being disturbed during planting. The Waterboxx prevents water from evaporating both from the box and from the soil under it. Hoff’s design encouraged dew formation by making the upper part of the Waterboxx cooler than the rest so that it nighttime moisture condenses on it. The water then moves downward across a non-stick surface and drips into the box where it is slowly released into soil near the plant’s root via a wicking material. The box also captures and stores rainwater, releasing it slowly into the soil.
Additionally, just as vegetation creates its own microclimate, the Waterboxx stabilizes the climate around the plant to eliminate extremes in temperature or relative humidity, and protects it from wind. Eliminating extremes results in less stress on the growing plant.
In biomimicry, we talk about the three essential elements that distinguish biomimicry from the broader category of bioinspired design: Emulate, reconnect with nature, and ethos. Hoff’s technology embraces all three. He learned from nature and emulated the principles of how seeds germinate in difficult places. His connection with nature, and trees in particular, is clear from the many photos on the website showing him enjoying the rich variety of plants he’s encountered on his travels.
Hoff’s ethos — his desire to correct the damage we humans have done across the earth and improve people’s lives — led his company, AquaPro Holland, to set a goal of reforesting the world with 5 billion acres of economically and ecologically valuable trees in the next 40 years. Through such large-scale reforestation, people in more than 30 countries are working to create microclimates, alleviate drought conditions, restore habitats, and change local economies through well-managed, sustainable forestry.
All photos and illustrations courtesy of Groasis.