Guerrilla Grafters Grow Great Gifts For Greater Good

If you’ve been to downtown San Francisco lately, you might have noticed something odd about the decorative trees in the city: they’re now growing fruit. This is thanks to a group of people called the Guerrilla Grafters who are covertly grafting fruit-bearing twigs to city tress which would otherwise be fruitless. Their goal is to create a delicious, free source of food for those living in urban environments.

Biology-related hacks aren’t something we see every day, but they’re out there. For those unfamiliar with grafting, it’s a process that involves taking the flowering, fruiting, or otherwise leafy section of one plant (a “scion”) and attaching them to the vascular structure of another plant that has an already-established root system (the “stock”). The Guerrilla Grafters are performing this process semi-covertly and haven’t had any run-ins with city officials yet, largely due to lack of funding on the city’s part to maintain the trees in the first place.

This hack doesn’t stop at the biological level, though. The Grafters have to keep detailed records of which trees the scions came from, when the grafts were done, and what characteristics the stock trees have. To keep track of everything they’ve started using RFID tags. This is an elegant solution that can be small and inconspicuous, and is a reliable way to keep track of all of one’s “inventory” of trees and grafts.

It’s great to see a grassroots movement like this take off, especially when it seems like city resources are stretched so thin that the trees may have been neglected anyway. Be sure to check out their site if you’re interested in trying a graft yourself. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can take this process to the extreme.

Thanks to [gotno] for the tip!

59 thoughts on “Guerrilla Grafters Grow Great Gifts For Greater Good

    1. Grafting like this will result in one small branch producing fruit on a large tree that otherwise does not. If you have a productive fruit tree in your yard that is leaving a mess of rotting fruit, there are organizations that will come and pick the rip fruit for you – which then goes to food shelves or other charitable organizations.

      1. The issue with occasional cleanup however small would still probably be enough on its own for the city to send out a work crew to remove the offending branches. Now add to the mix the fact that if anyone eats any of these fruits and gets sick for whatever reason…. it will mean a multi million dollar lawsuit against the city. Which is a definite reason that the branches will probably be removed.

        1. There isn’t fruit nazis forcing anyone to eat the fruit any more than bark nazis or leaf nazis forcing folks to eat that part of the tree either. I don’t see a lot of traction for a lawsuit going forth. Only toddlers are known for trying to eat anything that fits between their fingers as a rule. The cleanup issue, maybe. I’ve known of neighborhoods cutting down berry trees just because the birds that hang out around them can make a pretty good mess.

      1. I would bet you that someone would eventually get sick after eating one of the fruit and sues the city. At which point if they haven’t already removed all the grafts that they will be removed.

        People are too litigious to allow us to have nice things.

        1. Not to mention injuries both accidental and intentional. Heck I can just see it now with full sized fruiting trees. Someone climbs up to get that last apple near the top, falls out and breaks multiple bones.

          1. The city has limited liability is the cases you mentioned. Climbing city property that is not labeled for, or intended for such use, (items like jungle gyms and monkey bars), is considered personal neglect of safety, and is no different than jumping off a bridge on purpose.
            Picking random fruit of unknown origin off trees that are not owned by you is again- personal neglect of safety.

      2. The city of Pasadena, California has orange trees all over the place on city property, and Caltech has them too. I have made lemonade from the fruit from these trees (they taste more like lemons).

          1. Pesticides would be present only on the surface, so not a problem for fruit you peel. Apples and other fruit you should rinse off like any other fruit you would buy from the store. Even if you didn’t wash them, you’d likely have to eat quite a bit or very often to get sick.

          2. Because the city didn’t plant them. They grow naturally, and although they are not native to the area, are not considered an invasive species of plant, and therefore they are allowed to grow.
            Like kratz said, you wash fruits and vegetables anyway, even if you buy them at the store. All the fruits and vegetables there have pesticides on them (unless they are “organically grown”).

    2. This is a really bad idea shielded by “This is for the greater good”. A few scavengers will do major damage to a beautiful living tree to obtain “Their entitlement fruit”. Limbs broken, bark stripped, small trees cut down during the night for a personal gain of not much. Collateral damage to the tree is accepted by these few people. Damage to a tree that was supposed to be for all to enjoy.

  1. It’s mad that you can just do that with plants, that one plant’s sap and sugar system, roots, everything else, are compatible, and you can just stick ’em on and they’ll thrive. Be good if animal parts were interchangable like that. Although there’d probably be more vegetarians. Or cannibals.

    1. Imagine growing your own food right on your body. The dilemma of whether to pack your lunch or eat out would go away. Potluck dinners would take on an utterly new (grotesque?) dimension. The somalier might bring a bottle of wine and “perhaps a leetle sumpsing to go weeth zat, monsiuer”, along with the necessary corkscrew and surgical tools

      The possibilities are endless.

      1. That would only serve as a food storage mechanism. It would not be a food source since it would be using nutrients and energy from the body to grow it in the first place. Eating it would mean tapping into your storage, not really obtaining new food.

        As storage goes.. it wouldn’t be that good a mechanism. Jutting out of the body would make it prone to injury and therefore infection, as would the process of removal for eating. We already have a far better food storage system built in anyway.. fat. We just need a good way to surpress the urge to eat when we desire to use it.

      2. There are species of nudibranchs (sea slugs) that eat algae and coral and then capture the chloroplasts (from zooxanthellae in the case of coral) and put them in their skin so they eventually have enough to photosynthesize their own food. I’m unsure if it’s enough to be completely self sustaining but it would still be cool to be photosynthetic.

    2. Aren’t fruit most trees the result of grafting? According to the “manual” they are taking cuttings from standard fruit trees and grafting then into ornamental fruit trees, any required compatibility may be there. Not like they are telling people to put the fruit tree cutting into Cottonwoods or Chinese Elms, Osage Orange etc. . While ornamental fruit tree produce stunted fruit it’s probably possible the grafts can produce edible fruit, but not a lot of it. Then again Guerrilla Grafters are an extreme right wing group bent on protecting the markets of commercial fruit growers by perpetrating a hoax, but I sorta doubt that.

  2. Intereesting idea. The cleanup issue is very real in an urban environment, but I think it might be worth mitigating with additional labor.

    NPR recently had a hour with some scientists who tested a absolute ton of fruit and vegetables from urban settings.

    They found fruits like apples came out very clean and nutrient rich, while certain leafy vegetables like lettuce were full of ground pollution.

  3. so this is nothing more than a group of vandals cutting up publicly owned trees without consent all the while hoping to get an apple or two without thinking about the long term damage it could be doing to the tree or the monetary cost to the community as a whole in both cleanup and damages to the tree itself and also the sacrificial tree they are mutilating to initially get these branches to graft. where are they getting those do they have permission, are they concerned about the long term affects on them? also what about pollination of these plants as well for the fruit production now they are taking away pollination resources that the bees previously had and moving them into a very bee unfriendly environment. While i’m on the bee subject did they do any studies at all on the rfid impact on bee’s themselves. we have and are currently seeing the impact of radio waves on the bee population now they are going to make the problem worse by putting those radio waves at the source of where the bees go to get their food when getting the sweet nectar from the flowers of these plants. Trees are not microsoft word, going out and copy/pasting onto something else and believing it is all for the benefit of themselves is just a selfish thing to do without doing any type of impact study to begin with and that is exactly what we have here……..

    1. Most RFID tags do not have any internal power, they don’t emit anything until they’re scanned. They’re powered by wireless scanner (probably their phones) which takes all of 1 second. Placing RFID tags on the trees does absolutely nothing.

    2. Sounds, that you very urgently need some pills against paranoia! This people are NOT setting out genetically modified organisms from an extraterrestrial world, its just some branches of normal fruit trees.

      They can grow they source trees for the grafts themselves and plants are very tolerant to loosing a twig or two, sometimes even animals bite some off.
      And radiowaves do not harm bees, except if you would put them onto a multi kilowatt transmitter.

  4. Cleanup? Lots of people seem concerned about that. I don’t think it would be an issue. Yes, I have fruit trees in my yard. Yes.. cleanup is an issue. But.. these single fruiting branches on otherwise fruitless trees would produce far less fruit than my fully fruiting trees. Also I would assume that they would be placed low on the tree where passersby could easily reach them.

    I think people would have them mostly eaten up before it came to be a cleanup problem.

    I’ve had a similar idea myself. I have thought about putting fruit tree seeds in seed bombs and throwing them out the window in places around my city where I see lots of unmowed area and homeless people. I know they would never fruit as well as nursery bought fruit trees because those are not naturally grown, they are specially chosen root stocks with specially chosen scions grafted on. But… if they bare any fruit at all they might be a whole lot better than nothing for a hungry homeless person!

    1. The trouble, as you mentioned, is they more often than not won’t ‘grow to type’ so instead of a red delicious you get something resembling a crab apple that is too full of tannins and acid, so much so as to be inedible.

  5. It’s a cute idea. But the quantity of grafts they attempt, the number of that that take and the number of that that polinate and fruit to full ripeness.. let’s be realistic here; it’s far more a social experiment, a sort of ecological protest or an art project than a practical way of suplimenting food production. I’m sure some people will get a little bit of joy seeing a solitary bit of fruit growing where it “shouldn’t be”, and the amount of fruit that will drop and require cleaning up is going to be nothing compared to the amount of dog shit already being deposited at the base of the trees.

    So, it’s a positive thing. Not very substantial, but positive.

    More interesting for the urban forager though is the link on their site to a world map of fruiting public trees.

    I’d mark the ornamental plum tree near my house on the map, but I’m keeping it to myself. Otherwise I’ll have nothing to make delicious jam with.
    (ornamental plums have very little flesh on them, but blanche the skins off, simmer the flesh in a pan until you can sift the stones out with a seive & the back of a spoon, then make jam as normal. For bonus effect, simmer the skins seperately in a little water to get the colour out of them to add back into the jam. Also, add a clove or two. It’s lovely.)

  6. Coming from a family that has replaced the shrubbery with fruit trees in front of their townhouse, depending on the type of fruit grown, you can have issues with bugs getting into every fruit and varying yields/shapes from year to year. Some people seem incredibly turned off by just a few bug holes in their fruit–I’ve gotten used to eating peaches and plums where the pits have generous amounts of larva castings packed between the pit and the meat, but not sure that is for everyone. There are good organizations that already salvage the much more presentable fruit around SF, so call me skeptical about the uptake.

    I’d be more thrilled if they planted garden greens (ie, edible weeds). When I lived in the East Bay I could pick a huge bag of fennel near the Costco at Point Richmond every time I dropped by, and that would last several meals. That and some rosemary and lavender walking past some overgrown city planters on my way back from the BART station.

  7. Anyone who has seen a feral Bradford pear offspring would question the wisdom of unmanaged fruit trees. (Imagine an invasive thorn hedge that would repel Godzilla.) Also, wouldn’t this fruit tend to harbor pests that would damage actual crops, like the medfly?

  8. “People are too litigious to allow us to have nice things” That’s bull shit propagate by the powers that be to gin up those who aren’t very well read to act against their own self interest. Corporation look to be the largest sector to u to misuse the civil courts for their own profit. not Mr. or Mrs. Joe Blow looking to score a jack pot. Where it read that these are fruit trees going into ornametal fruits trees the chance are good the grafts are successful, but aren’t going to turn ornamental tree into heavy “normal” fruit bearers. In the en they do in some cases the volunteer harvesting groups mentioned will keep any clean up to minimum. My guess in those here fing fault when SHF they will be the first in the rush to access such produce.

  9. This is bad ass no matter what legalities might arise from it. Hacking on a biological level is pretty cool in any respect. I’m digging this idea – want to try it out for myself now! Cool article HAD!

  10. The best way to get rid of homeless people is to not feed them. Don’t give them money, and don’t give them gifts. They will move to the sanctuary cities your town will be much nicer. Homeless people pee and defecate near trees. Don’t eat the fruit.

    1. I’m trying to decide which is greater: Your stupidity around the fear of waste near the roots of trees; or your callousness in abandoning these people. I hope you don’t have any children to program with this ment…

      Crap, I’m feeding the obvious troll, aren’t I.

  11. This is a really bad idea shielded by “This is for the greater good”. A few scavengers will do major damage to a beautiful living tree to obtain “Their entitlement fruit”. Limbs broken, bark stripped, small trees cut down during the night for a personal gain of not much. Collateral damage to the tree is accepted by these few people to a tree that was supposed to be for all to enjoy.

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