Frank Strand knew for years that his wife wanted to be cremated, but when she was dying of liver cancer a decade ago, he asked what she'd like done with her ashes.
"Very close to the end of her life, she said, `Oh, just turn me into a rosebush,'" Strand said.
After his wife's death, Strand held off on scattering her ashes. He had a chemistry background and learned cremation ash was an inert material like stone or sand, he said.
He researched, and then helped establish a new business that turns cremation ash into a planting medium for trees or shrubs grown in memory of a loved one. Strand said the cremated remains become part of the living plant.
"The being returns to nature and it becomes a living memorial," Strand said.
The small Kankakee, Ill.-based business is called Floramorial, Inc. Frank Strand, at 84, splits his time between Scottsdale, Ariz., and Illinois and serves as an advisory partner. His son, Roger, is president, and they have an office manager in Illinois and a sales director, who is also a funeral director, in the St. Louis area.
People can work with a funeral home, crematory, or in the case of pet remains, a veterinarian, to have the process done. They can also begin the ordering process online through Floramorial's Web site.
Floramorial sends out a small, durable shipping container to send the cremation ash to the business. The container will have both the grieving family's name and an identification number.
The cremation ash, which contains calcium phosphate, is processed to create a planting medium by Floramorial. The Floramorial product consists of potting soil, cremation ash and a chemical catalyst.
"We break the bond between the calcium and the phosphate, so that the phosphate becomes water soluble and can be absorbed by the plant roots," Roger Strand explained.
Clients receive the planting medium, a garden trowel, gloves, planting tips and a notarized certificate of authenticity. The product can be used as potting soil normally would be.
The company only works with already cremated remains, and doesn't need to use all of the ash from a cremated person to make the product. If the product is ordered through Floramorial's Web site, it costs $395 for a person, and $295 for a pet. It may cost less if someone works through an outside organization. So far, the new business is averaging about five to 10 customers a month.
The Humane Society of Missouri recently started offering Floramorial for $195 a pet.
It had the process done for free on two of its deceased dogs, Holly and Winston, that were rescued last year, and had to be euthanized, despite extensive efforts to get them well. The organization plans to spread the planting medium in a memorial park near one of its animal shelters in St. Louis.
"I thought it was an interesting and ecologically sound way to handle the ashes," said Cyndi Nason, director of adoption centers for the Humane Society of Missouri.
Not everyone thinks Floramorial sounds like a good idea.
"To me, it's another gimmick," said Wallace Sife, founder of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He noted that an increasing number of people are cremating their pets, but said if someone is seeking to return a pet's remains to the earth and to plant a memorial, they could just bury the pet's body and plant a tree above it "without any ridiculous expense."