American art professor Sam Van Aken of Syracuse University has produced a hybridized tree that bears over forty different types of stone fruits. The result, aptly named the Tree of 40 Fruits, is a product of the grower’s knowledge of art and botany, which he garnered from childhood experience growing up on his family’s Pennsylvania farm.
The hybrid tree was sculpted through a horticultural practice called grafting, and bears fruits such as peaches, apricots, cherries, nectarines, almonds, and plums. The tree is composed of antique and native fruits, and Van Aken says that it was designed in part as a conservation effort to preserve heirloom stone fruit varietals that are no longer available for sale or produced commercially. Van Aken’s first foray into grafting began in 2008, when the professor and agricultural sculptor began grafting orchids and then vegetables together to create new hybrid plants for his art exhibit, Eden.
The tree blossoms in an array of bright spring hues, ranging from deep purples to very light pinks and whites. Come summer, the hybrid Tree of 40 Fruits bears a robust collection of different stone fruits. Sam considers his masterpieces as much a work of art as a monument to good taste; this is because the sculptor claims he can manipulate the way the trees blossom and produce fruit by grafting different varieties onto the base tree in a certain order.
Van Aken creates the trees by starting with a “working tree,” on which to he grafts several different types of trees to the root structure over the course of five years. Once the tree has reached roughly two years in age, the mad botantist splices more varietals to the limbs in a process known as “chip grafting.” Using tape, Van Aken introduces the budding branch from an entirely different fruit-bearing tree into an incision in the working tree. Over time the foreign limb becomes a part of its host, and slowly starts to function as an appendage of the original arbor. While the process sounds far-fetched, it is bearing some truly amazing results.
Sixteen trees have been created in this way since the artist began playing God with trees. Van Aken told Epicurious magazine that, in creating these one-of-a-kind fruit-bearing works of art, he visits local farms or growers to collect stone fruit varieties. He says he wants each tree to serve as “an archive of the agricultural history of where [it] was located,” and sees his works as a way to preserve local and outdated varietals.
Van Aken says his ultimate goal is to cultivate small orchards of the hybrid Tree of 40 Fruits across the country, bringing the fruit-bearing sensations to art museums, private collectors, and city parks. These incredible trees bear fruit from July to October, offering up a bountiful harvest of different fruit varieties for four months out of the year. The artist says that one of the most incredible things about his creations are their visual duplicity: the trees look completely average 8 months out of the year, but for four months in the summer, they explode with color. Sam told Epicurious that his primary goal for the trees was simple: “I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday.”
By Mariah Beckman