Why you should care
Because if there’s any plant you want to keep alive, it’s Grandma’s memorial tree.
When Elizabeth Rodriguez’s mom died in March 2017 she felt a strong urge to keep her mom close to her. After some online research, she ordered a responsive, self-watering, Wi-Fi enabled pot that grows a plant in cremated remains (or in regular soil, for that matter). She planted an olive tree — “a symbol of peace” — in her Bios Incube and has watched it grow ever since. “It is very emotional to know that my mom’s ashes are sustaining the olive tree I planted,” she says. “Every time I see it on the porch, it brings me good feelings.”
Wanna grow a tree in your loved one’s ashes? This sci-fi plant pot will make sure it doesn’t die, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
The waist-high, off-white Incube is the cyborg offspring of the Bios Urn, a biodegradable tree-growing urn that protects a plant’s roots from the sky-high pH of human ashes for the first couple of years of its life. The Incube might have a soothing Scandi-chic exterior, but there’s a lot going on inside. For one, its walls contain a 3-gallon water tank connected to a small semi-circular digital sensor (no, it’s not a spiritualist symbol) that rests on the soil, measuring things like moisture, ground temperature and electrical conductivity. This data is used to water the plant as needed and it’ll also tell you — via LED lights on the plant pot or a free app — if you need to move your plant further from the radiator or closer to a window. All in the pursuit of eliminating the “double blow” of losing both your loved one and their memorial tree, says Anni Reynolds who handles marketing and PR at Bios.
The Incube was born out of a 2015 visit to California by the Barcelona-based company’s co-founder, Roger Moliné, to meet the people who’d been buying Bios Urns. Sales have been best in Anglophone countries — they’ve sold 100,000 urns so far — which tend to be “more open to alternative approaches to death,” Reynolds says. A common complaint was that the urn works better in outdoor locations, which limits the options for placement. Case in point: Rodriguez, who doesn’t own her home in her Southern California retirement community.
What started off as designing an indoor plant pot rapidly became “a technological project,” says Reynolds. From the outset, the product was intended to offer a simple user experience and an elegant design, which together would soften the experience of losing a loved one. While other plant incubators do exist, such as Seedo and Leaf, none are Wi-Fi enabled or designed for use with human ashes — and most look like refrigerators or high school science projects. After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the Incube was launched in 2017, and sales have increased by at least 10 percent every year since.
The $695 price tag may seem steep, but consider that a basic flat headstone will set you or your heirs back $1,000 and upright headstones can easily fetch three times that. A bog-standard urn costs under $100. Fancy urns — sculpted, carved, encrusted with jewels — can cost, well, whatever you’re prepared to fork out (I found one for $6,000). Cremation jewelry, like lockets for human ashes, cost at least a few hundred bucks, or you can spend anywhere from $2,500 to $50,000 on a diamond made from cremains. Meanwhile, turning your ashes into an artificial coral reef and plonking it off the Florida Coast can’t be achieved for less than $3,000. Of course it can’t.
What’s more, the Incube can be reused — either for a memorial to another loved one or for any other plant that you really want to keep alive — and the product has an “infinite” lifespan according to Reynolds: “Because we deal with such a delicate area of life, we don’t have warranties.” With the exception of drastic misuse, the company has a free repair and replace policy.
Next up for Bios: Public memorial gardens serviced by a battery of Incubes. The company is currently in talks with the mayors of several Spanish towns, and they are hopeful the first such facility — financed by the municipality and free of charge to users — will open later this year. As the global population swells and cemeteries become increasingly unsustainable (exhumations are already the norm in places like Greece and France), the concept will allow municipalities to offer an appealing alternative to burial that, instead of taking up space, actually cleans the air we breathe and helps keep global warming at bay.
Besides, says, Reynolds, “A line of trees is much nicer than a graveyard.”