Just like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, Sam Van Aken, a professor at Syracuse University, is growing a tree that can produce 40 different types of stone fruits. The art professor, who has also an award-winning contemporary artist, started this project in 2008 after grafting together vegetables for an art exhibit.
Growing up on a farm in Reading, Pennsylvania, Sam never thought of leading a life of agriculture. However, his Tree of 40 Fruit soon became a passion of sharing the meaning of the word, “hoax”. In an interview with Epicurious, Sam explains the relationship between hoaxes and his tree.
First and foremost I see the tree as an artwork. Like the hoaxes I was doing, 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.
Not found in nature, Sam had to create these multi-fruit trees using a chip grafting method. Every year in February Sam travels throughout New York State and the region collecting 12-18″inch sections from various stone fruit trees. Sam chose stone fruits for their capability and the amount of native varieties there are.
In the spring, the pieces are grafted onto the new tree where the buds will heal and emerge as a new growth. The tree grows the new graft, turning each branch into different varieties of fruit.
Once grafted, Sam color-codes each branch on a sheet of paper to indicate what each branch will grow. Each tree has their own stone fruit varieties which are carefully chosen based on their bloom and color, almost like a living sculpture. This particular tree will have six kinds of plums, two nectarines, three apricots and one peach.
If you are wondering what one of these trees might look like, you are in luck. There are over 12 trees scattered across the United States from California to Maine in museums, universities and even backyards.
Each of the single trees take about five years to start producing a variety of different fruits. Sam visits each of the trees about six times in the first three years to prune and graft all 40 varieties of stone fruit onto the tree.
While it seems like a project that a mad scientist or Frankenstein would take on, the Syracuse University Professor’s art project is about how nature and art interact. Sam hopes that one day he can open up a small grove of these trees in a more urban setting. Just image walking down the street and seeing a tree filled with plums, apricots and peaches.