It’s not often that you hear about an invention that was modeled after bird poop, but there’s a first time for everything. In fact, this fecally-inspired device could ultimately be responsible for reforesting billion of acres of parched land, and it just won Popular Science’s Best Invention 2010 award. It’s called the Groasis Waterboxx, and it’s a low-tech product that helps seeds or saplings grow into strong trees in eroded, arid and rocky environments.

When a bird poops out a seed, the accompanying excrement forms a cap over the seed, which prevents water in the soil from evaporating. That, essentially, is how the Waterboxx works. The device has a tubular opening in the middle, through which one or two saplings or seeds can be planted or sown directly into the soil. Users then add 15 liters (4 gallons) of water to the box’s internal reservoir, as well as three liters (one gallon) down the tube.

The outside top surface of the box is designed to collect rainwater and deliver it to the reservoir, while the inside is designed to collect condensation from the air at night. The box itself shields the ground from the evaporative effects of the sun and wind, protects the sapling from wildlife, and maintains a fairly even soil temperature. A small wick in its underside releases about 50ml of water from the reservoir into the soil every day. At night, the water-filled reservoir helps to insulate the seed/sapling, while it also helps to cool it during the day.

The water that the box disperses seeps down into the soil, creating a capillary water column that the sapling’s roots will follow as it grows. Once the roots reach the natural water table, the sapling will experience a growth spurt, which is an indication that the box can be removed.

All of this sounds good in theory, but does it actually work? Well, the Waterboxx was tested for a period of three years in the Sahara Desert, by the Mohammed I University of Oujda in Morocco. During that time, some trees were grown with the box, while some were grown without, but still watered regularly. In the end, 88 percent of the boxed trees grew up to be strong, while 11 percent were considered weak. With the unboxed trees, however, only 10.5 percent turned out strong, while 89.5 percent died.

The Waterboxx is the creation of Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor who believes that planting trees can undo mankind’s damage to the planet. “The Treesolution is simple,” he said. “If we unbind more CO2 atoms from the air with trees than we put in the air through fossil fuels, then the climate problem is solved. Mankind produces annually 8,4 billion tons of CO2 through using fossil fuels. One acre of trees unbinds an average two tons of CO2 molecules in harmless C and O atoms. The C atoms are fixed in wood and the O atoms are put in the air. So if we plant 5 billion extra acres of trees producing food, then these trees unbind 10 billion extra tons of CO2. That's more than we pollute.”

Prices for the Groasis Waterboxx start at 199.99 euro (US$272), for the minimum order of ten units. Delivery is expected to begin in January.