First living tree burial in Virginia is at Buena Vista's Green Hill Cemetery

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BUENA VISTA, Va. (WDBJ7) — A death in a family, even after a long and happy life, can bring a range of questions, not the least of which is where they should be buried.

In Buena Vista this weekend, one family made a novel and increasingly popular choice.

It was a perfect, if blustery, day. A family gathers to say farewell to a beloved mother.

But there was no casket. Rather, a biodegradable urn and a sugar maple sapling were planted in the ground.

Ellen Houston will enter eternity as a tree.

“She was such a lover of nature, and she taught us the names of flowers and trees, and we camped a lot and she was an avid fisherperson," her daughter, Turner Houston, said. "She would have loved this.”

On a quiet slope in Buena Vista’s Green Hill cemetery, her tree was the first.

“Actually," explained Don Wilson of the Evergreen Memorial Trust, "The first in Virginia.”

But likely to be the center of a memorial grove.

“When we tell someone we have this option, they say, 'That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for,'” Wilson said.

“Because she loved nature so much," Houston said, "When I learned about these memory forests and the living urn, I thought: that’s perfect.”

And as markers go, a maple (one of around twenty tree options available) should last a really long time.

“A beautiful tree, shade tree, native tree, a hardy tree," Wilson said. "It’ll live a long, long time.”

And although the Houston family has no connection with the area, Houston explained: “I looked up sites in Virginia, and so the photographs from here, and it’s remarkable. So this had to be the spot.”

Their father, Ellen’s husband, now 94, plans to join her in the forest.

“We’re going to be looking for a thorny tree for him,” Houston said.