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Eating your urban forest

Image: Sidewalk plum tree, Berkeley
 On the east coast of the U.S., juneberries are ripening, Berkeley's plum trees are already full of ripe fruit, and at the end of May, black locusts near the Spree River in Berlin were in bloom.  local ecologist is a long-time advocate of the edible urban forest and we've eaten its fruits, too.  You can learn about our Eat Street Trees! project here.

The existence of edible trees on streets and in parks and other public spaces can be a result of informal practices, sanctioned tree planting, or both.  In Seattle, it is unlawful under Park and Recreation code to pick fruits, flowers, or other parts from shrubs and trees which de facto bars foraging.  Planting fruit trees in the sidewalk is also prohibited under Department of Transportation policy.  Research recently published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening (McLain et al., Vol. 11, Issue 2, 2012) find that the dominant official vision for Seattle's urban forest is environmental service provision and not forest products provision.  In policy documents such as the city's 2007 Urban Forest Management Plan, environmental benefits such as air and water quality improvement were assigned to urban forests while the provision of products like food were relegated to timber forests.

But McLain et al. observe that edible trees are planted in Seattle's public spaces, sometimes in collaboration with city agencies.  A 2009 Department of Neighborhoods and Earthcorps fruit-tree giveaway program proved so fruitful that in 2010 the partnership offered up to four trees to be planted in yards or in the sidewalk.  The tree species included serviceberry, dogwood, and Italian plums.  All produce edible fruit but the Italian plum - the most well known of the species - was limited to yard plantings and apples, cherries, and pears were still off limits for sidewalk planting.  Edible trees are allowed in parks; P-Patch community gardens were started in the 1970s on parks department land.  More recent efforts to develop orchards, food forests, and edible hedges on parkland have been successful.

Sour oranges, Sacramento
 In the conclusion to their paper, McLain et al. argue that despite the expansion of the palette of edible tree species and the spaces where they can be planted, only fruits, nuts, and berries are deemed "appropriate" to harvest.  The authors noted that leaves, barks, cones, seeds, flowers, grasses, reeds, moss, and fungi remain "off-limits" as do "heavily wooded areas and wetlands."

Have you ever foraged/harvested from your urban forest?  Tell us about your experience in the comments section.


Anonymous said…
My mother and aunts have harvested ginkgo nuts from sidewalk trees in Queens, NY
local ecologist said…
Anonymous, thanks for sharing!
I saw, the other day, a woman harvesting ginkgo in Washington Square Park.