There’s a lot of different fruit trees in the world: trees that grow cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, almonds… And then there’s this fantastical mash-up of a fruit tree that grows all–yes, all–of those fruits.
(An artist’s rendering of whimsical grower Sam Van Aken’s ‘Tree of 40 Fruits.’ Credit: Sam Van Aken)
Sam Van Aken, an artist and professor at Syracuse University, uses a technique called “chip grafting” to create hybridized trees that each bear 40 different varieties of “stone fruits,” or fruits with pits.
Just imagine: Your entire farmer’s market haul can be plucked from a single tree.
Van Aken says he became fascinated with the idea as a boy growing up on a farm.
“When I’d seen it done as a child it was Dr. Seuss and Frankenstein and just about everything fantastic,” he said in a Tedx Manhattan talk last year.
Now a new National Geographic video about Van Aken (embedded below) shows his project coming to, well, fruition.
(Three different types of fruits are visible growing from this hybrid tree created by artist Sam Van Aken. Credit: Sam Van Aken)
Van Aken considers his otherworldly trees artwork. He creates elaborate timelines of when the different varieties blossom, which allows him to “sculpt” how the trees flower and fruit.
The trees are part of his ongoing project called “Tree of 40 Fruit,” which began seven years ago. But it’s only now, years later, that the contemporary artist believes many of his initial hybrids are coming into their peak blossoms and fruits, as he describes in the new video by National Geographic.
(Different varieties of stone fruits grow in tandem on a single tree, thanks to a clever technique called “chip grafting.” Credit: Sam Van Aken)
(In the spring, the different varieties of trees grafted together on one of a Tree of 40 Fruit specimen burst in to bloom – making their differences immediately obvious. Credit: National Geographic.)
In the video, Van Aken’s Frankenstein-like grafting technique is shown in detail – and it’s fascinating. The process involves slicing a branch with a bud from a tree of one of the fruit varieties, then and inserting it into a slit in a branch on the “working tree."
The wound is wrapped in tape until it heals (the tape helps create a humid “greenhouse” that promotes bonding), and the bud starts to grow into a brand new branch.
(Plastic tape wrapped around two different chip grafted branches creates a humid ‘greenhouse’ around the wound, helping it heal together. Credit: National Geographic.)
As an adult, he jumped at the chance to acquire a three-acre orchard from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which included over 250 varieties of fruit, many of them local and heirloom varieties not found in supermarkets.
(Sam Van Aken keeps detailed, color-coded charts of his grafted trees. Credit: National Geographic.)
Van Aken realized that the variety of fruits available in the markets was shrinking for multiple reasons – market demand for longer shelf life, larger size, and particular colors among them. He decided to keep some of these heirloom varieties growing – even if it was in a way beyond the natural.
“In some small way I’m creating my own type of diversity,” he said at Tedx.
(Summer is harvest time for Sam Van Aken’s multi-fruiting trees. Credit: Sam Van Aken)
“Unlike any other artwork I’ve made, these things continue to evolve,” Van Aken told National Geographic.
The payoff is excellent, too. “You get fruit all summer long!”
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