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Edible/Useful Street Trees?

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  • Graham Burnett
    This is an email which appeared on the International Permaculture email list some time back- I had Russ permission to polish it up into an article, including
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 9, 2002
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      This is an email which appeared on the International Permaculture email list some
      time back- I had Russ' permission to polish it up into an article, including some
      info on possibly suitable UK species, but never seem to have gotten round to it, so
      thought I'd submit this for information/discussion here as I thought the points he
      makes are very interesting and universally aplicable even though written for an
      australian context...

      Any other subscribers got any thoughts on suitable edible/useful street trees?




      > Do you know of any communities where there has been a policy to plant
      > street trees which produce edible crops (any where in the world)?

      I seem to remember that carob trees - I think - were planted as street trees
      in a town in Victoria, Australia. The carob, you probably know, favours dry
      conditions, produces an edible pod used as a chocolate substitute and has a
      foliage useful as fodder.

      That was in the 1980s, so my memory is a little hazy. It might have been
      reported in an early Permaculture International Journal. The town might have
      been Maryborough.

      Once, I raised the idea of edible street trees during a presentation I made
      at a Newcastle conference (1996) - a followup to the Rio conference. A
      Sydney council planner in the audience, while not arguing against the idea
      of edibles as street trees, raised the issue of maintenance and suggested
      that councils would be better waiting for an approach from residents before
      carrying out such plantings.

      Maintenance, of course, is a valid point because many edibles would require
      more maintenance than non-edible street trees.

      In the early 1990s, the idea of planting fruit trees in a park in
      Leichhardt, an inner-urban Sydney suburb, was put forward by a council staff
      environmental policy developer. It was local residents who declined the
      proposal but who agreed to a grove of olive trees in recognition of the
      substantial Italian presence in the suburb.

      In a nearby suburb there are Australian bush food trees - a fruiting variety
      called Illawarra Plum (not a plum at all although the fruit has the colour
      and texture of blood plum) - they are Ecocarpus and are indigenous to Sydney
      bushland and other areas. They drop their fruit in Autumn. These trees
      receive no maintenance and the fruit makes good eating. They are, of course,
      'accidental' edible plantings.

      May I make a few points about the use of edible fruit trees as street tree
      (and presumably parkland) plantings?

      1) If fruit fly is prevalent in your climate, avoid fruit tree species
      susceptible to the fly. This will reduce the chance that the street trees
      become vectors for the infection of home garden fruits. Consider the
      prevalence of other insect pests of plant diseases.

      In Sydney, residents have sometimes planted the delicious tropical fruit
      locquat in their home gardens and on streets. Unfortunately, locquat
      harbours fruit fly although it casts a welcoming shade in summer and has
      attractive, apricot-size, sweet fruit.

      2) In Australia, councils struggle to keep expenditure consistent with
      income. Any species should therefore be economical in regard to maintenance,
      so select low-maintenance species.

      3) Before planting the trees, think about fruitfall and whether this will
      stain car paintwork or cause other negative impacts which would lead to
      pressure on council to remove the trees.

      4) Non-edibles may be more appropriate along busy roads in case the fruit
      become contaminated with hydrocarbons from the traffic. In Australia, leaded
      petrol has been phased out but may be a consideration in other countries.

      5) Suggest that councils, in deliberately selecting edibles as street trees,
      also develop a policy of access to the pickings by citizens. This would
      head-off any entrepreneurial fruit dealers from gaining 'official' access to
      the harvest and excluding citizens.

      6) Over the past decade in Australia there has been an increasing interest
      in native 'bush' foods. Bush foods therefore make a good candidate for
      street and parkland plantings.

      If there are groups of native food plant enthusiasts, perhaps they could
      suggest particular suitable species and may even be encouraged to help in
      maintenance and to keep an eye on the plantings.

      A further advantage of bush foods native to an area is that they are adapted
      to regional climate and soils.

      7) Consider nut trees as street plantings. One thing going for nuts is that,
      with the edible part safely enclosed in a shell, they are not susceptible to
      contamination by vehicle exhaust.

      In Windsor (Brisbane, Australia) I was shown a few of the native macadamia
      trees now well established as street trees.

      8) In rural areas, consider using trees which produce a foliage useful as
      fodder (I mentioned carob earlier). That way, when the next El Nino brings
      drought to the land, council can harvest a portion of the foliage as
      emergency fodder for farmer's cattle. This should engender public support
      for the plantings.

      9) Consider - as a supplement to edible street plantings - the establishment
      of edible groves in parkland. Like street plantings, parkland orchards
      should consist of low maintenance species.

      Some bush food trees are used widely in Sydney as ornamental plantings in
      home gardens and parks.

      Within walking distance of where I live I can collect Illawarra Plum,
      magenta lillypilly (Syzygium paniculatum), small leaf lillypilly (Syzygium
      leuhmannaii) and bunya pine seed (Aracaria spp), not to mention the creepers
      pigface and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetregoniodes) on the beach

      The notion of planting fruit trees as street plantings in some parts of
      Australia is likely to generate opposition from the influential native
      plants lobby. They, of course, would rather see native species established,
      preferable indigenous species.

      This idea has merit - especially where pollution from vehicles may
      contaminate fruit and as a reservoir of genetic information for those
      indigenous species.

      Trouble is, some of this lobby treat any exotic species as weeds - they are
      somewhat weed obsessed and at times their eradication of exotics resembles
      nothing more than the ethnic cleansing of the plant world.

      While the establishment of native bush foods might go some way to mollifying
      them, you should be on the lookout for opposition and their lobbying of
      council, with whom they are particularly influential.

      Because they are supposedly interested in environment and sustainability, a
      counter to their opposition might be to point out that local food is
      nutritionally beneficial and to also point out the environmental and social
      costs of importing foods into the city. A city in which the majority of
      plantings are native species does little to reduce this impact because it
      simply furthers the need to rely on the hinterland for food. Use the
      'ecological footprint' model.

      I think it was David Holmgren who wrote that many proposals by pemaculture
      designers for public place plantings have not been taken up because they
      involved high maintenance and were seen as impractical. Thus, quality of
      advice when considering species selection should be valuable.

      It might also help in convincing local residents that they would not be
      inconvenienced by the plantings. Yes, street plantings, like most
      initiatives in public places, have a public relations component. Identifying
      potential objections and developing arguments to counter them would be time
      well spent. Just because an idea is of blazingly obvious benefit doesn't
      mean that everyone will see it that way.

      The idea of edible or otherwise useful street tree and shrub plantings is
      one which has been around the permaculture movement for some decades. It's
      also one which has never taken off, apart from a few instances, some of
      which are accidental.

      Hope your research goes well.

      ...Russ Grayson

      Media, training and consultancy services for sustainable development.
      PO Box 446 Kogarah NSW 2217 Australia
      Phone/ fax: 02 9588 6931 pacedge@... www.magna.com.au/~pacedg
    • fairly obvious, I suspect
      I travelled to Moscow, Russia, recently. Apples were commonly used as street trees there, although due to fruit drop and other problems, I don t recomend
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 29, 2002
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        I travelled to Moscow, Russia, recently. Apples were commonly used as
        street trees there, although due to fruit drop and other problems, I
        don't recomend this. Basswood (Tilia species) are commonly planted in
        Chicago. No one uses them, but the flowers could be used in tea.
        Frankly this seems more hazardous, in re. urban air pollution, than
        fruit because of the higher surface area (exposed to smog) to volume
        ratio. I've never seen *intentional* edible landscaping of any sort
        practiced in Chicago, though. Do New Englanders tap their street
        maple trees? I forsee a "tragedy of the commons" problem arising
        since (at least in the Rust Belt where I currently live) property
        rights to streetside areas have eroded to the point where they are
        practically city property.

        Street hedges seem to pose less of a hazard from fruit drop. Many
        plants seem suitable: nanking/bush cherries, Rosa rugosa, kumquats
        (subtropics), highbush cranberry (esp. for shade), even severely
        pruned mulberries. However shrubs don't shade drivers from the summer
        sun. Again, the "Commons?"

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