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Living billboard highlights the importance of trees in our communities and world

A giant display of a tree made from live plants
This living billboard was meant to showcase the importance of trees in our world.
June 2, 2016

Look at the tree one way, and it’s barren and lifeless. Walk a few feet and look at it from another angle, and its leaves become green and lush.

What can you do to help trees grow green and thrive? How can you be a tree champion? That’s the question asked by the 10-by-27-foot tree art you can see in Arbor Court this summer. Created to draw attention to the importance of trees in our cities, it was the showpiece of The Morton Arboretum’s Arbor Day celebration in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago on April 29.

The artwork is constructed from real tree bark and 9,000 live plants, all varieties of sedum, a plant that is often used for green roofs. Sedum is a hardy perennial succulent—a plant with thick, water-storing leaves. Beneath the surface of the billboard lies a layer of soil.

The visual effect, in which the work’s appearance changes as you look at it from a different angle, is called lenticular design. Although the technique is common in advertising, this was the first time such a billboard had ever been constructed using live plants, according to Bjorgvin Saevarsson, founder of Minneapolis-based Übergrün eco-advertisement agency, the Arboretum’s creative partner on the project.

“Not only does this living billboard showcase how vital trees are to the health and future of our cities, but it’s cleaning the air while sharing this important message,” said Saevarsson.

He oversaw a team of seven people who worked about 150 hours to create this unique piece. The display can produce about 56 pounds of oxygen a month while also consuming carbon dioxide from the air around it.

It’s similar to the way trees produce oxygen to improve the air of our cities, and it highlights how much they need our help.

“In urban, developed settings like Chicago and our suburbs, the trees that live alongside us face different challenges than trees living in the wild,” said Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, based at The Morton Arboretum. “They need human intervention to help them thrive.”

Learn more about how you can be a champion of trees.