Wednesday 14 December 2022

Groasis Waterboxx plant cocoon, Pieter Hoff, 2009.

A desert is commonly defined as an area of land that has less than 25cm of precipitation in a year; a climate that is too dry to support extensive vegetation. Despite this problem, people have managed to survive in these hostile regions for thousands of years. Methods for accessing water supplies have included the transferal of water, for example through modifying river systems, building canals and dams, or the abstraction of groundwater, such as drilling into underground aquifers. However, these solutions are very expensive and can be unsustainable; if communities use water faster than it can be replenished then shortages will occur.

MoDiP’s current exhibition, Endurance – in the desert.
Image credit: MoDiP

The Waterboxx plant cocoon from Groasis is one alternative approach, currently on display in the museum as part of the exhibition, Endurance (refer image above). It was designed by company founder Pieter Hoff, a Dutch Lily breeder, who had been travelling across the world to import and export bulbs. In 2003 he became aware of customers reporting declining water tables caused by drip irrigation and he began to consider potential solutions for planting in degraded land in a water-saving way.

Within one year, he had built a model of his very first Waterboxx plant cocoon (refer image above, on the left), made from iron and circular in shape with a diameter of one meter. A further year of development saw the introduction of plastics materials (polypropylene), moulded over a square former (centre image, above). Fifty of these were produced and tested in the Sahara Desert. The design was altered again in 2006 to a rectangle (above, right), but Hoff discovered that the long sides of the box were now too weak for hot climates. Reinforcement of the walls required more raw material, which then raised the price of production. After continuous and extensive development, testing and adaptation, the finalised round model design was introduced in 2008 (refer image below) and manufacturing began in 2009 with a further testing of 30,000 units in 19 different countries.

Cross-section diagram of t
he Waterboxx® plant cocoon.
Image credit:

So how does it work?
Injection moulded in polypropylene (PP), the green coloured water reservoir is placed over trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables, which grow though the opening in the middle of the container. The beige-coloured lid is grooved to collect and funnel water from rain and dew into the storage cistern, with two blue coloured siphons guiding the water in and a cap sealing the unit, both designed to prevent evaporation. A black coloured centre plate sits beneath the lid to promote condensation water production on the underside, and a polyamide (PA) wick drips a continuous supply of water through to the plant; enough to ensure survival whilst encouraging the development of the taproot. Any stored water stabilises the temperature underneath the Waterboxx, creating a micro-climate which further supports growth.

The Waterboxx can be removed after one year, by which time the plant will have become established with deep roots and able to survive without assistance. The product can then be re-used, up to ten times, and MoDiP’s example includes an optional Growsafe Telescoprotexx plant protector, a sheet of PP which when folded into a tube to wrap around the plant, prevents damage from grazing animals and offers additional frost, storm and wind protection.

A Beechwood tree grown in Ecuador at the 2,5,7 and 13 month stage of growth.
Image credit:

The system has now been successfully applied in over 40 countries and has been proven to save time, water and money as plants grow faster and are more productive. The technology has been commercially available since 2011 and has won numerous innovation and environmental excellence awards, including being appointed a 'National Icon' by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2016. Since then, Groasis has contributed to reforestation, food production and ecosystem restoration projects across the globe, testing the Waterboxx in extreme conditions such as within the deserts of Kuwait and the Galapagos Islands.

You can see this ingenious object on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

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