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July 16, 2024

Could coffins woven from weeds be the death of us?

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Much has been said and written about sustainable burial in recent years. 

Many locals are keen to avoid the chemicals and harmful compounds that go with conventional practices, and have advocated for a natural burial ground in the shire.

But what if we could not only minimise the impact of the moment when we are laid to rest, but in fact, help to replenish and regenerate the planet as we do so?

This is the philosophy behind the work of Ocean Shores artisan, Zimmi Forest, who is introducing the shire to the ancient art of coffin weaving.

Ms Forest and her team take the vines from the invasive, introduced species Uncaria tomentosa – colloquially known as cat’s claw – and weave them into beautifully made coffins.

Not only are the coffin’s completely sustainable and biodegradable, coming from a plant that is ubiquitous in the Northern Rivers, but the very act of harvesting them helps to reduce their damaging spread through the local ecosystem.

Made from cat’s claw

‘The cat’s claw is quite literally killing the trees,’ says Ms Forest, who has been weaving and teaching others how to do so for 30 years.

‘For the last 30 years, people have been cutting it, and putting poison on it, which makes no difference whatsoever other than that it poisons the environment.

‘What we’re doing is a regenerative idea. We’re on the path to reduce the weed and remove it. If we can get the community to get involved and really embrace this the potential differences are huge.’

While woven coffins are available in Australia, virtually none of them are made here. 

The vast majority are imported from Asia, and are not made using invasive weeds, but monocrops such as willow that are introduced and farmed in unsustainable ways.

Ms Zimmi is seeking to break this monopoly and make coffin weaving a truly regenerative practice here.


A key part of Ms Forest’s project is workshops where people can build their own coffin – designing their own shape and style and adding personal touches such as flowers and pieces of cherished material. 

The first official workshops will take place in October. However, there will be a taster workshop on the weekend of July 6 at the Country Women’s Association Hall in Brunswick Heads – visit beforeandafterlife.com.au for more info. 

For more information about Ms Forest’s business, visit www.weavingnature.com.

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  1. This is a great creative way of helping to rid us of one of the most damaging environmental weeds in the region. It truly has the ability to transform ecosystems and can invade and completely bring down healthy forest in only a decade or two.

    There’s a few errors though. The Cat’s Claw Creeper we have here is Dolichandra unguis-cati, not the Uncaria species mentioned. One of the characteristic features of it is the tubers on the root system, often the size of a walnut but sometimes as big as footballs, and can have strings of many on the same root.

    The comment ‘for the last 30 years, people have been cutting it, and putting poison on it, which makes no difference whatsoever other than that it poisons the environment’ is quite wrong in my opinion. Responsible bush regenerators and landholders have been using best practice control methods that requires minimal herbicide applied to the cut stem to effectively kill the underground tubers, with well documented success.

    I’m not sure what the ‘harvesting’ here involves but unless every tuber is dug out (impossible to hand pull) and safely disposed of, or killed in some way, the plant will simply regrow and take over again. Digging out the tubers has been done successfully on a large infestation in the Tweed but it took literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of meticulous work.

    It’s great to see innovative ways of dealing with invasive species and spreading the word about the problem but the right words should be spread.

  2. Thanks for adding this info….the species name was written incorrectly but I did say Dolichandra Ungius…I picked this up straight away as well. Congrats to the team that we’re willing to pull the tubers……my attempts have been fruitless, As you know, if you can’t remove them all, then it will just keep growing. I have friends working a 3 year program with biodynamic peppering…..half way through the trial….much safer to the environment. You may be correct that ‘responsible bush regenerators & landowners…..’ are having success. I have seen success without the use of chemicals. I have been into environments where ‘best practice’ was not being followed. I have been into ecosystems where more poisons was used than ‘best practice’ and the cats claw still returned. It costs a lot to have my team go in and harvest the vines chemical free.
    I refuse to use poisons especially so close to the waterways. I have great concern for soil system, the biological underworld, the ecosystem, the flora and fauna. In the meantime I am reducing the seed stock of those I harvest. As you know the plant produces thousands of seeds and they spread so easily. While I personally won’t remove it completely , or immediately, it is one small and regenerative step in the solution and education. It is soooo much better than importing coffins or cutting down trees for burial or cremation. This is such a win win….I can think of very few other jobs or businesses who are being creative, regenerative, and caring for country. It means so much to me to have a business that is part of the solution.

  3. I so appreciated reading both your comments. It’s a joy to see calm respectful disagreement, along with acknowledgement of the good being achieved. Thank you both.


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