The Tree of 40 fruit" is Van Aken's creation, a single tree that can produce 40 different stone fruits, or fruit with pits, including peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines.
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Sam Van Aken is an Associate Professor of Sculpture a Syracruse University His family is Pennsylvania Dutch, and he grew up on the family far.
In 2008, while looking for specimens to create a multicolored blossom tree as an art project, Van Aken acquired the 3 acres (1.2 ha) orchard of the New York State Agricultural Experiment station, which was closing due to funding cuts. He began to graft buds from some of the over 250 heritage varieties grown there, some unique, onto a stock tree. Over the course of about five years the tree accumulated branches from forty different "donor" trees, each with a different fruit, including almond,apricot,cherry,nectarine, peach and plum varieties.
He uses chip grafting to create the trees, which involves cutting the buds off a fruit tree and having them heal to the lateral branches of a rootstock tree. Branches from the different fruit trees grow off of the rootstock, which is typically a tree variety natural to the area's climate and soil. This allows fruit to be grown in areas that might not otherwise support that type of tree. Van Aken has planted 16 trees in seven states across the country.
An added bonus: The tree looks like an ordinary fruit tree until it blossoms in the spring, at which time it becomes an awesome Technicolor dream-tree. The whole process takes about six years, but for Van Aken, the results have birthed as much meaning as it does fruit.
“As an artwork, what it does is it interrupts and transforms the everyday,” Van Aken said in a Ted Talk earlier this year. “By taking all of these heirloom, antique, and native species, grafting them onto the Trees of 40 Fruit, and then placing them throughout the country, in some small way, I’m creating my own type of diversity
So far, 16 of Van Aken’s trees have been grafted throughout the world.