The Boston Tree Party is Turning Boston’s Public Spaces into Urban Fruit Forests

Urban Fruit

Nope, that’s not a typo in the headline. The Boston Tree Party is a gang of modern-day Johnny Appleseeds in the Boston area who are planting heirloom apple trees on publicly available land in Boston.

Remember the Guerrilla Grafters, who are turning San Francisco’s public trees into fruit trees? Apparently, the city of San Francisco “pruned” some of the Guerrilla Grafters’ trees after getting wind of where they were, removing all of the grafted branches and all of the fruit. The Boston Tree Party is also making fresh fruit more available through public fruit trees, but instead of planting on city property, they’re partnering with groups who own public land. Hopefully, that means that their trees won’t have the same problems that the Grafters are seeing.

Why Heirloom Apples?

The Tree Partiers chose heirloom apples for a few reasons:

  • They’re a symbol of good health.
  • Apples are connected to the history of Boston: The first apple orchard in the United States was planted on Beacon Hill, Boston by the first European settler, William Blackstone.  The oldest named variety of apple in the United States—the Roxbury Russet—was developed in Roxbury in the 1630’s. They’re making Boston a city of apples once again, but with this new, re-contextualized meaning.
  • Increasing biodiversity. There used to be over 15,000 varieties of apples out there, but today we’re down to only 11 types of apples in grocery stores.

The Tree Party is planting their apple trees in pairs, since they need to cross-pollinate in order to produce fruit. And that’s the whole idea, right? Increasing public access to fresh, healthy food!

urban fruit

Creating Urban Fruit Orchards

Last spring, the Boston Tree Party planted 35 pairs of heirloom apples across Boston by teaming up with local schools, churches, and hospitals. It takes time for apple trees to start producing fruit – about four years – but when they do, they’ll provide the community with over 10,000 free apples every single year. That’s a lot of fresh, free food!

Here’s group co-founder Lisa Gross talking about The Boston Tree Party at TEDxBoston:

Get Involved with the Boston Tree Party

Those Tree Partiers aren’t done yet! They’re gearing up for another round of plantings this year, and Boston groups that want to help out are cordially invited to sign up until April 15, 2012. Here’s what they’re asking:

  • Delegations need to provide two pieces of land that are 15′ in diameter. The pieces of land don’t have to be connected, but they do need to be within 1/4 mile of each other.
  • They can help out with the money part, but ideally delegations would be able to give $325 to help pay for trees and planting supplies.
  • A commitment to care for these trees long-term.

I know, this might sound like a lot, but it’s such an amazing cause! Based on the numbers from the spring 2011 plantings, within a few years, those trees should start producing over 285 apples every single year, and with proper care apple trees can live between 50 and 100 years!

If you want to get involved with the Tree Party peeps, just send an email to for more information.

{Images via The Boston Tree Party. Used with permission.}

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1 thought on “The Boston Tree Party is Turning Boston’s Public Spaces into Urban Fruit Forests”

  1. Love the idea of having fruit trees in public spaces. Have you considered doing more than apples? Apples, especially heirlooms, are prone to cedar apple rust which won’t kill the tree directly, but will make it defoliate and then the fruit is also deformed. ( Over time it will slowly kill a tree. Not to mention the tree will look awful and you don’t want to give the public any reason to dislike you efforts. There are two ways to combat cedar apple rust:

    1. Spray fungicide every two weeks from May to September, not a great option.
    2. Plant resistant varieties. There are some new varieties out there that don’t seem to have problems with cedar apple rust. Here’s an article from UMass suggesting resistant varieties:

    Also don’t worry about planting in pairs. All you need is an apple tree within a mile radius. Crabs count; they will pollinate an eating apple just fine. In an urban area that should be no problem, unless you are planting in a very isolated court yard or something.

    You might consider planting cherries or pears as well. They have a very good cold tolerance and many fewer disease problems.

    Good luck!

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