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Disneyland Article
Debunking Most Widely Shared Myths All Of The Plants In Tomorrowland Are Not Actually Edible
Grant Marek
I had a plan.

A plan I knew my wife would hate.

On our family’s vacation to Disneyland in February, I would test what I always believed to be the most unbelievable of Disney’s urban legends: 100% of the plants in Tomorrowland are edible.

My wife’s response when I tried to softly break the news to her: “Grant. No.”

The reasons no one has ever vetted one of the most widely shared “secrets about Disneyland you definitely don’t know” are fairly obvious: 1) my wife’s reaction, 2) thousands of kids wipe their snotty hands on Tomorrowland’s plants every day, 3) there’s a chance not all of the plants in Tomorrowland are actually edible and 4) Disneyland took down the only page that mentioned the edibleness fact in 2012 (and declined to participate in this story).

“The plants in Tomorrowland are meant to be edible!” the since-deleted web page for Tomorrowland once excitedly read. “The visionary landscaping doubles as a potential farm, projecting an ecologically astute future, where humanity makes the most of its resources.”

The rumor, I later discovered, started in 1998 when newspapers across the country had passing mentions of the edible landscape as part of a media blitz for the just-renovated Tomorrowland. But it has reemerged and intensified of late thanks to both internet listicle farms and Disneyland TikTok, where hundreds of influencers wearing Mickey ears regularly try to pawn it off as a “Disneyland secret.”

Tony Baxter — a storied Disneyland Imagineer who oversaw the construction of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Star Tours, Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones Adventure — is credited with dreaming up the edible landscape in ’98. In true Disney fashion, Baxter said he opted to present a rosier vision of what the new millennium might bring, where functional gardens would take the place of ornamental ones.

“We went from the cliche of dark images of the future to a veritable Garden of Eden, where every plant in Tomorrowland is edible,” he told the North County Times in 1999.

But they can’t all actually be edible, can they?

On an unusually cold February Monday in Disneyland, I decided to find out. Armed with PictureThis — a plant identifying app that my 12-year-old daughter convinced me to download (“You can’t just start eating plants! What if they’re poisonous and you die??”) — and my finest Indiana Jones T-shirt, I set out to see if every plant in Tomorrowland was edible by actually eating them.

That little gimmick, though, came to a screeching halt when I filed into a line for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and uploaded a photo into the app of the plant next to me that looked the least edible — a thorny background shrub.

“Toxic,” returned the app.

I uploaded another photo into the app, this time with a different angle of the plant in question.

“Toxic,” returned the app.

A dozen photos of the same Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) later, and it became apparent I wouldn’t actually be eating any plants in Tomorrowland (score one for my 12-year-old daughter).

According to Sarah Hake, a plant developmental biologist who directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany and serves as an adjunct professor in the plant and microbial biology department at UC Berkeley, that’s no surprise.

“Well, I think it means some part of it is toxic,” Hake said. “Most pretty things we have in gardens, a lot of them are toxic. But it’s not going to kill you. Toxic is quite extreme.”

Hake explains there’s a big difference between an “edible landscape” and “every plant in Tomorrowland being edible.”

“There aren’t many plants that are entirely edible,” she said, later pointing to a beet or a head of lettuce as examples of some of the few that are. “But an edible landscape, you try to make it so that some part of everything could be harvested.”

Part of the Natal plum is edible — it produces small fruits, which are generally used in jams and jellies and taste a bit like a cranberry — but outside of the fruit, the plant is “mildly toxic,” according to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Ingestion of these plants may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea,” its toxic plants explainer states. “If ingested, call the Poison Control Center or your doctor.”

Not deterred by diarrhea or the poison control center, I identified almost two dozen other plants with the app — there are some plants in the land that people don’t eat but are frequently used in cooking (like bay laurel) and others that don’t appear to have any nutritional value (like Sprenger’s asparagus fern, which isn’t edible, or Echeveria Neon Breaker, which is beautiful but simply a succulent), but there is also a vast edible landscape: There’s a strawberry tree, parsley, rosemary, beets, mustard greens and a pomegranate tree.

None of the fruit-bearing trees have any fruit on them, which Hake later points out is probably why it repeatedly appears as a “Disneyland thing you didn’t know.”

“People are likely inclined to pick it when it’s not ripe,” she said. “The produce would probably not reach the stage where it’s ready.”

One Disneyland listicle in 2019 said 80% of Tomorrowland’s plants are edible “according to Disneyland guides,” a fact that is now parroted in about half of the posts about it. And while an 80% edible landscape seems to align more closely with what I actually found (if still a bit high), you’ll still be hard-pressed to find the “edible” part of most of the landscaping.

There is, however, one exception. The final plants I identified are four avocado (!) trees at the intersection of Alien Pizza Planet, the Star Trader gift shop and Space Mountain’s entrance. I’ve walked by them hundreds of times in my lifetime and never for even a second did I think they were filled with California’s favorite toast adornment. My 12-year-old and I sift through them, trying to see if there are any ripened avocados inside their leafy canopies, but come up empty.

I decided to make my first-ever visit to a Disneyland information booth, about 20 feet away from the avocado trees, to ask about the glorious green fruit and the 100% edible contention. The cast member explained there are edible things in Tomorrowland, rattled off almost all of the edible landscaping I’ve already identified (plus says there’s an apple tree somewhere, too), but laughed about the avocados.

“People bring us avocados all the time,” she said. “They can’t seem to figure out where they came from.”

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