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This Tree Produces Forty Types of Fruit

The living, edible art of Sam Van Aken's grafted stone fruit experiment

Sam Van Aken courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Art

A few years ago, Sam Van Aken, an artist and professor at Syracuse University, found an orchard near Geneva, New York that had many varieties of fruit growing on its property, but which because of financial hardship, was about to close. Van Aken stepped in and bought the orchard, and set to making a tree. Through a process called “chip grafting” (taking a sliver of a tree that includes the bud, taping it into a cut in the tree, and then letting it heal over the winter), Van Aken created a beautiful Franken-tree that grows 40 varieties of apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries (and maybe almonds).

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 and preservation.”

So far, 16 of Van Aken’s trees have been grafted throughout the world.

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