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An energy-efficient, reliable and timely data transmission is essential for Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) employed in scenarios where plant information must be available for control applications. To reach a maximum efficiency, cross-layer interaction is a major design paradigm to exploit the complex interaction among the layers of the protocol stack. This is challenging because latency, reliability, and energy are at odds, and resource-constrained nodes support only simple algorithms. In this paper, the novel protocol Breath is proposed for control applications. Breath is designed for WSNs where nodes attached to plants must transmit information via multihop routing to a sink. Breath ensures a desired packet delivery and delay probabilities while minimizing the energy consumption of the network. The protocol is based on randomized routing, medium access control, and duty-cycling jointly optimized for energy efficiency. The design approach relies on a constrained optimization problem, whereby the objective function is the energy consumption and the constraints are the packet reliability and delay. The challenging part is the modeling of the interactions among the layers by simple expressions of adequate accuracy, which are then used for the optimization by in-network processing. The optimal working point of the protocol is achieved by a simple algorithm, which adapts to traffic variations and channel conditions with negligible overhead. The protocol has been implemented and experimentally evaluated on a testbed with off-the-shelf wireless sensor nodes, and it has been compared with a standard IEEE 802.15.4 solution. Analytical and experimental results show that Breath is tunable and meets reliability and delay requirements. Breath exhibits a good distribution of the working load, thus ensuring a long lifetime of the network. Therefore, Breath is a good candidate for efficient, reliable, and timely data gathering for control applications.