Guerrilla Grafting: Public Trees Spliced to Bear Edible Fruit

A subversive urban agricultural group in San Francisco is turning ornamental trees into fruit-producing surprises for the local population but while technically breaking the law. A simple incision allows industrious grafters to add living branches to the mix; these scions heal in place then effectively become part of the existing tree.

guerilla branch grafts

A fresher form of guerilla gardening, traditionally carried out through seed bombs and other surreptitious planting techniques, this approach makes existing plants yield free produce.

A flowering apple tree in Oakland, Calif. with two successful grafts from an apple tree which bears fruit.

Organized by Tara Hui, Margaretha Haughwout and Ian Pollock, Guerrilla Grafters leaves subtle hints in the form color-coded tape behind to mark their work, eschewing maps to avoid detection.

guerilla grafters group photo

While the city has over 10,000 apple, plum, pear and other fruit trees (and 100,000 public trees in total), these are intentionally rendered sterile to avoid making a public mess or attracting animals. The existence of these sterile plant species makes guerrilla grafting interventions all the more difficult to spot, since they are simply added to extant greenery and take time to bear fruit.

guerilla gardening sf

The group’s novel form of civil disobedience begins to address issues of food scarcity and accessibility, raising edible fruits but perhaps also questions about secondary effects, like fallen fruit creating street clutter. At the same time, fruit is expensive, many who go hungry in the city need to have their situation addressed and this activity raises awareness.

guerilla grafting instruction manual

Their website also provides tips on ideal species combinations and grafting strategies, including the instruction manual shown above. The Guerrilla Grafters “graft fruit bearing branches onto non-fruit bearing, ornamental fruit trees. Over time, delicious, nutritious fruit is made available to urban residents through these grafts. We aim to prove that a culture of care can be cultivated from the ground up. We aim to turn city streets into food forests, and unravel civilization one branch at a time.”