The Tree of 40 Fruits
The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees by contemporary artist Sam Van Aken. Each unique Tree of 40 Fruit grows over forty different types of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds.
The Idea of the Tree of 40 Fruits
In 2008, Van Aken learned that an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be shut down due to a lack of funding. This single orchard grew a great number of heirloom, antique, and native varieties of stone fruit, and some of these were 150 to 200 years old.
To lose this orchard would render many of these rare and old varieties of fruit extinct. So, to preserve them, Van Aken bought the orchard and spent the subsequent years figuring out how to graft parts of the trees onto a single fruit tree.
Sam Van Aken
Sam Van Aken grew up on a family farm before pursuing a career as an artist. Now he works as an art professor at Syracuse University, but his most famous achievement – the incredible Tree of 40 Fruit – combines his knowledge of agriculture and art.
The Development of the Tree of 40 Fruits
Sculpted through the process of grafting, the Tree of 40 Fruit blossom in variegated tones of pink, crimson and white in spring, and in summer bear a multitude of fruit. Primarily composed of native and antique varieties the Tree of 40 Fruit is a form of conservation, preserving heirloom stone fruit varieties that are not commercially produced or available.
Once the working tree was about two years old, Van Aken used a technique called chip grafting to add more varieties on as separate branches. This technique involves taking a sliver off a fruit tree that includes the bud and inserting that into an incision in the working tree.
It’s then taped into place and left to sit and heal over winter. If all goes well, the branch will be pruned back to encourage it to grow as a normal branch on the working tree.
After about five years and several grafted branches, Van Aken’s first Tree of 40 Fruit was complete.
The Growth Pattern of The Tree of 40 Fruits
It actually looks like a normal tree for most of the year, but in spring the plant reveals a gorgeous patchwork of pink, white, red and purple blossoms, which turn into an array of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds during the summer months, all of which are rare and unique varieties.
The Importance of The Tree of 40 Fruits
The Magical Tree is not only is it a beautiful specimen, but it’s also helping to preserve the diversity of the world’s stone fruit. Stone fruits are selected for commercial growing based first and foremost on how long they keep, then how large they grow, then how they look, and lastly how they taste.
According to listings on Van Aken’s website, there are at least 20 such trees planted by Van Aken so far, and they can be found in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the US.
What happens to all the fruit that gets harvested from these trees?
“I’ve been told by people that have [a tree] at their home that it provides the perfect amount and perfect variety of fruit. So rather than having one variety that produces more than you know what to do with, it provides good amounts of each of the 40 varieties.
“Since all of these fruits ripen at different times, from July through October, you also aren’t inundated.”
You can learn more about these trees and read the rest of the interview here.
[Video] The Tree of 40 Fruits (in Hindi/Urdu)