Renegade arborists creating forbidden fruit in San Francisco 

Guerrilla Grafters, which formed last year, is grafting fruit-producing branches to ornamental pear and plum trees around The City. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The SF Examiner
  • Guerrilla Grafters, which formed last year, is grafting fruit-producing branches to ornamental pear and plum trees around The City.

Trees make the urban landscape more pleasant. They shade the sidewalk and provide space for birds to roost. But they don’t usually produce fruit — and that’s something a secretive group of amateur horticulturalists is looking to change.

“When you take a stroll down the street and there’s all this free fruit, it changes your attitude,” said Tara Hui, one of the founders of Guerilla Grafters.

Guerrilla Grafters began early last year when a few dozen members fanned out across The City grafting fruit-producing branches onto ornamental pear and plum trees in four San Francisco neighborhoods. The experiment is still in its early stages, but Hui said at least one Asian pear in Hayes Valley had flowered.

“We were so fortunate,” she said. “It formed two little pears!”

While the grafters’ activities might seem harmless, Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said the renegade gardeners are running afoul of the law.

“The trees that are in the right of way, they’re not for grafting,” he said. “The City considers such vandalism a serious offense. There would be fines for damage to city property.”

Nuru had not heard of Guerrilla Grafters, but said he would ask his staff to investigate. Meanwhile, he added, if the grafters have ideas about urban agriculture, they should discuss them with city officials.

Hui said such grafting won’t harm trees. Guerrilla Grafters, which is working on an urban orchard database, assigns a steward to oversee each tree, collecting fruit, pruning it and looking for disease.

“We’re hoping it will become acceptable even for the bureaucrats if we have demonstrated success,” she said.

Hui acknowledged that fruit trees are messy when their fruit goes uncollected, but she felt sure that San Franciscans will pick whatever fruit they came across.

“The advantage of planting productive trees in public places is that there are a lot of people who have access to it,” she said.

Hayes Valley resident Mike Smith was playing with his Jack Russell terrier in a neighborhood park Tuesday.

Nearby, a row of leafless pear trees each sported a tiny branch fastened to the mature tree with electrical tape.

Smith, who had never heard of Guerrilla Grafters, said he would be happy to pick a pear if the trees proved fruitful.

“I think that would be great,” he said.

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