Assessing Access to Culturally Significant Species in New York City, USA’s Urban Forest: The case of Ginkgo biloba and Morus species Harvesting by Chinese Americans and their Descendants

Authors: Sarah Becker, Ursinus College, Patrick Hurley*, Ursinus College, Marla R. Emery, U.S.D.A. Forest Service
Topics: Environment, Urban Geography
Keywords: Assessing Access to Culturally Significant Species in New York City, USA’s Urban Forest: The case of Ginkgo biloba and Morus species Harvesting by Chinese Americans and their Descendants
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban forest scholarship indicates that diverse greenspaces provide immigrant groups with important opportunities to maintain their cultural identities. Modes of engagement in these spaces vary, but urban foraging potentially represents one culturally significant mode for some socio-cultural groups. While urban foraging is a ubiquitous practice, emerging research suggests distinctions may exist in which species foragers predominantly harvest. Less clear, however, is whether culturally significant species are accessible to sociocultural groups for harvest. To examine this gap, we draw on interview data from New York City foragers who self-identify as Chinese/Chinese-American and whose harvesting practices reveal ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and mulberry (Morus spp.) trees as culturally significant. To assess accessibility, we generated GIS hotspots of each species from the City’s street tree census, and assessed overlap of these hot spots with Neighborhood Tabulation Areas that have high percentages of residents who self-identify as Chinese/Chinese-American. Our results suggest ginkgo street trees in Manhattan are highly accessible, while a subset of these trees is moderately accessible in Brooklyn and small subset in Queens is relatively inaccessible. By contrast, mulberry trees are largely absent as street trees, although they do occur as “feral” trees in other environments. These findings reveal the uneven presence and distribution of culturally significant woody species as street trees in the city, while informing considerations around access to these species for harvest by residents who value them for maintaining cultural identities. Our findings raise new questions for urban forest managers about street tree species selection and a role for harvesting.

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