The Living Root Bridges of India


When it comes to building green, nothing may be closer to the embodiment of the term than using materials that are actually still alive. In northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on Earth, such a practice has been going on for hundreds of years. For proof, look no further than the "living bridges of Cherrapunji".

Like something out of Disney theme park attraction, these incredible bridges are made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree, otherwise known as a rubber tree. Besides the standard underground roots, this tree also shoots out secondary roots further up the trunk which are used to scale boulders, sip up water from rivers, etc. Long ago, people living in the region saw these strong roots as a resource for building bridges across rivers. A blogger explained the process saying,

In order to make a rubber tree's roots grow in the right direction -- say, over a river -- the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

Now obviously, bridges such as these take a bit to be completed -- say, 10 to 15 years. But, the end result is an incredibly beautiful and strong piece of functional nature. Some can support the weight of 50 people or more at a time! And since they're constantly growing, they also become stronger over time. It's estimated that some of the root bridges in Cherrapunji may be more than 500 years old!