So many hours of my life are spent in and around trees – whether it is hiking or viewing them through a window. I seem to always notice the leaves of a tree first – are they green, flowery, dead, or just budding? I notice how full the tree is, how tall it is, and how thick its trunk is. The one aspect that almost always skips my mind is how the biological organism “tree” becomes the grand structure that it is. What provides its energy and who feeds it? 
As I think of the biological taxonomy (the groups it belongs to and its purpose) of this beautiful phenomenon, I realize the source of its beauty and energy is water. A tree gets water from its environment, then captures, absorbs, and filters the water, a liquid. Trees are the longest living organisms on earth ( and can induce rainfall by cooling the land and transpiring water into the sky from their leaves. An acre of maple trees can put as much as 20,000 gallons of water into the air each day. The average tree will drink approximately 2,000 litres of water each year ( Trees have evidently been around for a long time, but their intelligent process of pulling water from the ground and reusing it is a invaluable tool for modern day life that has not been used for its full potential. 

Salter’s second design for the “Solar Water Still and Pump”

Exactly how can a tree’s water processing design can be used today? Most would agree that we could use a way to get pure water from contaminated soils and salt water – especially in places where no clean water alternatives are available. Stephen Salter (, has begun a quest with this worthy purpose in mind. His “Solar Water Still and Pump” was designed to mimic the power of a tree’s water harvesting system. By using the energy of the sun, it pulls water up from under the earth and then saves the evaporated water. The captured water is then distilled so that it can be used where pure water is unavailable. Trees improve water quality by slowing and filtering rain water, as well as protecting aquifers and watersheds (

Salter’s Illustration:

Salter’s design works well for improving water quality. His second design was successful in using solar power to capture water, filtering it and then collect the fresh water in a small jar. I would imagine this could be done on a larger scale as well. Just think of the possibilities – fresh water for those who live in areas of drought – California here on our own soil or African desert areas. Water pulled from moisture in the local soil in areas, eliminating the need to walk for hours to get clean water from a stream. No streams or rivers are necessary for this design to provide water!

We can truly learn from Salter and the ancient tree. Herb Waite, a researcher mentioned in Janine Benyus’ book Biomimicry, puts us in our place. He explains “Nature invents and we invent… humans and other life-forms have been evolving toward similar points, but [they] are just farther along than we are. They have already faced and solved the problems we are grappling with” (Biomimicry, Janine Benyus, p. 119). We may be behind, but as humans, we have the intelligent capacity to learn from nature’s successes. If we look at the problems solved by nature – such as the tree’s need for clean water – we can help to provide clean water to those in need with designs that cost little to nothing once put into action. Then, we just might be getting close to the point of the wise water usage evolution that the tree has clearly mastered.

Discover more about the scientific process of water capture in trees here and the details of Salter’s water filter process here.

“Roots Maximize Water Uptake: Plants” from

April 21, 2011

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