The Melbourne Treemail Phenomenon

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some people talk to their plants. In Melbourne, they email the trees. This became possible thanks to a decision to map every tree in the city and give it a unique ID number.

About 3,000 emails have been sent to individual trees in the last two years. People even began sending personal messages to the trees. This didn't start out as an exercise in sentiment, but a hard-headed attempt by Melbourne city council to manage an urban forest in decline - as a result of drought, by 2009 40% of the 77,000 trees in Australia's "garden city" were struggling or dying.

"Many of these trees were in a severe state of decline and we were staring down the barrel of losing up to 50% of our beautiful tree population. That would have fundamentally changed the way that Melbourne looked, the way it performed environmentally, the way people felt about it socially and even economically as well," says councillor Arron Wood, who leads on the environment.

"So what we did is we actually mapped all the trees in the city… In doing so we had to assign each of them an individual tree ID and it was a logical step then to allow our residents to actually interact on a digital platform. And they could email whether a tree was dropping limbs or if it was in a severe state of decline and we could easily locate that tree and come out and intervene."

Soon, there could be a lot more emails. The council believes planting additional trees could bring down Melbourne's sizzling summer temperatures by four degrees Celsius.

As well as cooling its citizens, planting 3,000 new trees a year will help the city to breathe more easily. Individual trees have received emails thanking them for extracting carbon dioxide from the air.