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Company creates tags that are like Apple Watches for trees: 'We want the trees to talk to us'

"The trees in our world are in trouble."

“The trees in our world are in trouble.”

Photo Credit: ePlant

California-based ePlant is giving us an opportunity to listen to trees, and it turns out they have a lot to say.  

The company's experts are connecting remote control-sized "tags" to trees that monitor growth, stress, temperature, drinking habits, and even whether it may soon fall down, according to ePlant. The TreeTag tech is for farmers and homeowners, sending them live information about trees via the cloud. 

"They are essential for the climate and essential for us and the planet, so we wanted to build a technology that was capable of monitoring them at scale," ePlant co-founder Graham Hine told Bloomberg. 

His goal is to put thousands of tags in city landscaping, vineyards, and forests, he said in the story. 

Each tagged tree has a unit plugged into the side, which includes a variety of sensors and a solar panel. The tags provide "an internet of trees," informing owners about how the overheating planet is impacting tree health, according to Bloomberg. 

Earth has about three trillion trees. However, about 15 billion of them are cut down for all the products we make and use each year, according to news from the journal Science. That doesn't count the entire forests lost to wildfires

"The trees in our world are in trouble," Hine told Bloomberg. 

While there are other devices that monitor trees, ePlant has a unique combination of data gatherers in one "inexpensive" unit. The cost is $50 a year for each tag and the data it gathers. Residential units are not yet available to the public, though the cost is set to be $249 each. There will be a $1.99 monthly fee, all per Bloomberg. 

"It gives you a chance to measure a whole lot more variability than you would ever get with more expensive alternatives," University of California Davis plant sciences professor Patrick Brown said in the story. 

Bloomberg interviewed California almond farmer Kirk Pumphrey, who is using the tags to get better data about his 160-acre orchard, which includes tens of thousands of trees. Bloomberg reported that Pumphrey is monitoring 200 trees with the goal of learning how to use less water while producing more nuts. 

Once the data is collected by the solar-powered tag, it is sent to a router up to a mile or more away (per Bloomberg) and then to the cloud. 

The tag is harmlessly screwed into the tree as part of a simple "mount, tap, and activate" process described on ePlant's website. 

Scientists believe trees are already talking to each other through the "wood wide web," alerting neighbors to pending danger and even sharing nutrients, according to Harvard experts. 

Tree tags may be a way for us to leavesdrop (ahem) eavesdrop on the conversation. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the data could soon be put into conversation format, where the tree sends a message like, "I am leaning too much today," with specific data comparing lean rates across weeks, per Bloomberg. 

It's all part of an effort to strengthen tree health, which can improve our health. One mature tree removes more than 48 pounds of air pollution a year, per the Arbor Day Foundation. 

"We want the trees to talk to us so that once we get that feedback, we can feed them accordingly," Pumphrey told Bloomberg.

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