Imagine a tree that produces not just one type of fruit, but a whole variety of them! Artist and Syracuse University art professor Sam Van Aken has brought that vision to life with the Tree of 40 Fruit, an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees that grow over 40 types of stone fruit, including cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and almonds. Van Aken, who was raised on a farm, bought a New York orchard that was about to be shut down, saving many rare varieties of fruit in the process. Over the next few years, the artist began his experiment and eventually successfully created the Tree of 40 Fruit.
Van Aken sculpts the tree through the process of grafting–he takes a sliver off a fruit tree that includes the bud, and then inserts that into an incision in the working tree. Taped into place, the branch heals and is pruned back to encourage it to grow as a normal branch on the tree. In the springtime, the tree bursts into a patchwork explosion of different pink, purple, and white blossoms, which become a stunning array of rare and unique fruits in the summer.
In an interview with Epicurious, the artist shares, “First and foremost I see the tree as an artwork. I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday. When the tree unexpectedly blossoms in different colors, or you see these different types of fruit hanging from its branches, it not only changes the way you look at it, but it changes the way you perceive [things] in general.” Another goal is to maintain different varieties of fruit as a form of conservation, preserving heirloom stone fruit varieties that are not commercially produced or available. Van Aken says, “In this way they become an archive of the agricultural history of where they are located as well as a means to preserve antique and native varieties.”
Van Aken has grown 16 Trees of 40 Fruit so far. While the trees are currently spread out in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the US, the artist now plans to grow a small orchard of the hybridized fruit trees in the city.