It's not every day you buy a tree in the middle of the Sahara desert, but that's just what I've done today over at Tree-Nation, a new ecological project which aims to plant 8 million trees in Niger (the poorest country in the world according to the Human Development Index) to combat desertification and land degradation.
Endorsed by the UN's Billion Tree Campaign, the site is very much a Web 2.0 affair, with an isometric cartoon map you can drag around (à la Google Maps) to find a vacant plot for your sapling and all the usual UGC elements (contacts, groups, photos, comments). Prices start at €10 for your bog-standard Acacia Senegal rising to €75 for a Baobab (seemingly the daddy of the indigenous tree population).
Once you've purchased a tree (which you can gift to someone else), a virtual tree appears on the map with its own unique URL (mine's here). With GPS coordinates (not yet added), your virtual tree will correspond to a real-world tree planted in the eco-park in Niger, whose progress you will be able to track online. You can even have photos of your tree sent to you should you so desire. Alternatively, you could wait till the trees (planted in the shape of heart) start showing up on Google Earth.
The interface isn't the smoothest and there have been some grumblings in the comments section of a recent TechCrunch post over Tree-Nation's for-profit status. Personally, I think we should be encouraging business models which benefit the environment and stop demanding that all ethical companies have to be non-profit.
Launched last October, only 387 Tree-Nation trees have been planted at the time of writing so they've still got some way to go. Why not head over there now and bagsy a bush. It's cheaper (not to mention a whole lot more worthwhile) than a Moon Estate.