Glowing trees could be used "instead of
street lighting" says Daan Roosegaarde

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde is exploring ways of using bio-luminescent bacteria found in jellyfish and mushrooms to create glow-in-the-dark trees that could replace street lights.

Daan Roosegaarde at SXSW
Daan Roosegaarde at SXSW

In this movie filmed at SXSW in Austin, Roosegaarde explains how: "In the last year I really became fond of biomimicry."

"What can we learn from nature and apply to the built environment, to roads, to public spaces, to our urban landscape?" asks Roosegaarde.

Biomimicry is the method of imitating models and systems found in nature to solve complex design issues. One of the biological phenomena that fascinated Roosegaarde was how animals like jellyfish and fireflies generate their own light.

The glow-in-the-dark Bioglow plants. Studio Roosegaarde are working on a project to use a collection of these for street lighting

"When a jellyfish is deep, deep underwater it creates its own light," he says. "It does not have a battery or a solar panel or an energy bill. It does it completely autonomously. What can we learn from that?"

Roosegaarde's interest in biomimicry led him to collaborate with the State University of New York  and Alexander Krichevsky, whose technology firm Bioglow unveiled genetically modified glow-in-the-dark plants earlier this year.

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Krichevsky creates the glowing plants by splicing DNA from luminescent marine bacteria to the chloroplast genome of a common houseplant, so the stem and leaves emit a faint light similar to that produced by fireflies and jellyfish.

Roosegaarde is now working on a proposal to use a collection of these plants for a large-scale installation designed to look like a light-emitting tree.

The element luciferin allows jellyfish to emit light  . Image: Shutterstock
The compound luciferin allows jellyfish to emit light . Image: Shutterstock

He had just taken delivery of one of the small Bioglow houseplants when he met up with Dezeen in Austin.

"This one was shipped to my hotel room and I’m really excited to have it in my hand," he says, holding the small plastic box that contains the plant. "This is a very small version that we have produced. Right now we are teaming up with [the University of New York and Krichevsky] to create a really big one of them like a tree instead of street lighting."

"I mean, come on, it will be incredibly fascinating to have these energy-neutral but at the same time incredibly poetic landscapes."

Swop streetlights with luminous trees - Daan Roosegaarde at SXSW
Studio Roosegaarde's visualisation of a light-emitting tree with a bio-luminescent coating for its Growing Nature project

Strict regulations around the use of genetically modified plants within the EU mean that Roosegaarde cannot use this material in his Netherlands studio. He had to travel to the US to receive the plant.

Distinct from Studio Roosegaarde's work with Krichevsky is a second project exploring bio-luminescence, called Glowing Nature, which does not use genetically-modified material. The aim was to find a means of giving mature trees light-emitting properties without harming them, building on research into the properties of bio-luminescent mushrooms.

Studio Roosegaarde's visualisation of a tree emitting light in a rural setting for its Growing Nature project

The proposal is to use a very fine coating of "biological paint" that when applied to trees allows them to glow at night. The coating charges during the day and at night can glow for up to eight hours. Trials using the material will start at the end of this year.

The music featured in the movie is a track by Zequals. You can listen to his music on Dezeen Music Project.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is a year-long collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

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  • Gayle Alstrom

    I like the idea of glowing trees, but how will the trees feel about it?

    • alpha4192

      They will love it, it’s like they are at a rave. Whooo, party TIME!

  • Tim

    I think Luciferin is a chemical or a compound, certainly not an element.

  • Tim Whitcombe

    Sure, it would be interesting to see a street flanked by glowing trees, but I can’t imagine this will have a great result on light pollution, or on the numerous animals that inhabit such trees?

  • Hi Tim,

    Thanks for pointing this out. We have amended the article accordingly.

    Kind regards,


  • Concerned Citizen

    Doesn’t make sense. Coating the leaves will reduce the chlorophyll consumption the trees need for growth. In order for the chemical to absorb light it needs to be on the top side of the leaves. To provide light at ground level, it needs to be in the bottom side of the leaves.

  • Smack

    Hey, it’s not about “coating” the leaves; this is something that would be built into the biology of the plant.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I read the text.

      • Treelove

        The coating is not sprayed: it’s encrypted into the plant DNA. Now, the article doesn’t specify where the ‘shining’ cells are, nor whether they block sun rays or not. Indirect light could be enough to store them during the day.

        One way or another, I do not believe that team would continue if it didn’t make sense ;)

        People who claim something impossible bother the ones sitting around a table, working to solve the problem.

    • PETER

      Oh great!

  • Rae Claire

    It’s amazing how concerned Americans are that the NSA is snooping in their data but don’t seem to care that Monsanto is meddling with their food. Has the EU banned GMO’s for no reason? These pretty trees are a good example of a sinister trend. I quote from my childhood, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”

  • Zoron

    It’s like living in Avatar.

  • Dominique Tremblay

    I will be impressed by humanity the day it decides to leave nature alone. We don’t “need” glowing trees.

  • Don

    The idea seems to be cool, but it won’t be so attractive if we lose control of it and our future children accidentally start glowing.

    • hyperzombie

      What is wrong with glowing children? It would be easy to see them at night.

  • Hann

    More light pollution? No thanks.

    • dr. angelface

      It would be such a shame to lose all of hideous sodium-vapour lamps and the stupid amount of artificially-generated energy it takes to power them, after all.

  • Keira Martins

    Nice glowing tress. Looks amazing.

  • Eduardo David Caballero Serran

    I doubt this could be a good idea. So far, nature has been trying to fight against human’s desperate need to affect everything that surrounds him; there should be another way to provide light on a certain spot without messing around with the trees. Have they measured how it could this impact the environment? I mean, we get our oxygen from trees.

  • OddStrange

    Why not have smaller bioluminescent plants grown in glass bulbs on poles, so we don’t have to risk accidentally messing up our trees?

  • Mark Warren

    Why do we need more manipulation of nature? Have we forgotten the purpose of design? Since roads are manmade, hey should be THE object of illumination and not nature. Just think, no more slamming into trees (glowing ones too), lampposts etc. Less roadworks to replace damaged lampposts ,trees etc. When the road glows they won’t have the obstruction of snow because snow is translucent.

  • Joe

    The birds will revolt against us for destroying the few homes they have left in an urban environment.

  • Keepcalm Lulu

    Will the insects lives and ecosystem be affected?

  • Johann Grünstern

    I find missing the pioneer references: the Genetic Barcelona Project, that started the research on bioluminescence to illuminate cities and highways with trees in 2003. For example, they created in 2005 seven bioluminescent lemon trees (Estévez, 2005, 2006, 2007). Or they illuminated with bacteria bioluminescence an entire apartment in 2008 (Estévez, 2009, 2010, 2011). Etc. See

  • John Wyndham

    “Glowing trees could be used instead of street lighting”. Sure. Until they turn sentient and try to kill us. Rightfully, I might add.

    • Stan G

      Yes, but at least they won’t be able to sneak up on us at night.

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by James Pallister. See our copyright policy.

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