A project of Pratt Institute’s Inclusive Ecologies centered on the distinctive pawpaw tree

  • research, interviews and oral histories illuminating the intertwining of people and plants
  • unearthing the overlooked, forgotten, and marginalized, both vegetal and human, through the establishment of pawpaw food forest sites in the urban realm.

Fruiting bodies is a chance for us to collectively imagine a city structured around participatory rituals of cultivation and care, to relish the messiness of fruit, and fruiting bodies more broadly, including our own. It’s also an opportunity to examine stories about and communication with plants, using the distinctive pawpaw tree and its many narrative strands as an organizing principle. We’d like to think that fruit trees, like the pawpaw, can also be teachers, introducing and making visible collaborative, indigenous, and feminist narratives in the urban environment.

Most public spaces prohibit the use of fruit trees, using justifications as varied as difficult maintenance, slippery sidewalks, limited budgets, challenging urban soils, and the modernist ideal of “litter free” plants.  “Botanical sexism” describes the use of male trees in the urban realm, to avoid the “messiness” of fruiting female trees. It has had the unintended effect of radically raising pollen counts and thus allergies and asthma in cities. The “arsenal of exclusion”, in which urban design is used to exclude “unwanted people or behaviors” also contributes to the uncharitable condition of our public spaces. Fruiting Bodies embraces a new generosity and model of engagement.

Basilica is the host of the first South Bay pawpaw patch, sharing a picturesque cluster with a Thorny Locust and Box Elder maple, providing shade company and a buffer from the train passing just behind.  The Thorny Locust shares a Pleistocene history with the pawpaw too; it’s believed the thorns of the locust evolved to protect itself and its understory trees, like the pawpaw, from the Mastodons and other megafauna gone since the Quaternary extinction event.  Curiously those same Mastodons, skeletons of which have been recovered from the South Bay, were responsible for extending the range of the pawpaw this far north through consumption and subsequent seed dispersal through their large travel distances.


Native to 26 eastern American states, and extending as far north as southeastern Canada,  the pawpaw is our largest native fruit.  This little tree is part of the annonaceae, or custard apple family, the only “truly extratropical” plant within this family and its northernmost member, which includes  soursops, or guanabana, cherimoyas, sugar apples, alligator apples and lang-langs. Found in North American broadleaf deciduous forests, it is a small understory riparian tree, often found near streams and rivers, making it ideally situated for its new patch locations in both the North and South Bays of Hudson, N.Y. 

One aspect of the pawpaw’s resurgence is its resonance with this moment in time, as we critically examine collective narratives. Native Americans and African Americans are telling their own histories, using plants and food as one means to connect to lost, suppressed and stolen cultures. The pawpaw was a valued food source for Native Americans and Africans enslaved in the US prior to the civil war. The recent New York Times article brings out this history.


The Basilica Pawpaw patch was made possible by a collaboration between Inclusive Ecologies Cathryn Dwyre and Elliott Maltby, Basilica Arts with David Szalsa, community member and Basilica Green activist Marc Scrivo, and Arnaud Cornillon of Acorn Studio Hudson with a grant from the Faculty Development Fund of Pratt Institute supporting the initiative and generous donations from community members like Marc and Arnaud, and the work and tree expertise of Basil Nooks.



Basilica and Inclusive Ecologies would like to invite the community to participate in the cultivation, care, and design of the recently installed pawpaw patch on Basilica’s grounds. Future visions include adding companion plants to work in collaboration with the pawpaw trees, creating a more complete food forest ecosystem, gearing up for a groundbreaking event to coincide with the pawpaw moon.


In addition to the cultivation and care of the pawpaw patch, the Fruiting Bodies project is gathering  stories exploring personal, historical and cultural relationships with fruiting trees. If you are interested in sitting with one of the Inclusive Ecologies members for an interview, please contact emaltby@pratt.edu. We can provide further details about the scope and content of the interview on request, and are adaptable to your interests and needs. 

Inclusive Ecologies https://www.inclusiveecologies.org/ at Pratt Institute is a space for research, teaching, and practice that explores intersections between design and climate crisis.  Inclusive refers to both the scope of the research, which seeks to integrate perspectives that have been historically marginalized from climate change discourse (indigenous peoples, women of color, industrialized animals, among others) as well as the aim of the research group is to integrate multiple design disciplines within areas of making, posthumanism, and environmental justice. Ecologies is interpreted in the broad sense, from earth and its systems to social relations. We support participatory design practices that include a diverse range of multi-species landscapes.

The Hudson As Muse Basilica Back Gallery Artist In Residence Series is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.