A tree that Sam Van Aken grows might look like any other—until it blooms. First, its branches blossom in different shades of pink, white and crimson, and then, quite magically, the tree displays a mix of fruit.
Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit, an invention that’s just what it sounds like, is capable of producing 40 different varieties of fruit—plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and others. The 42-year-old sculptor and art professor at Syracuse University created his first multi-fruit tree back in 2008, by grafting together branches from different trees. He intended to produce a piece of natural art that would transform itself. He thought of the tree as a sculpture, because he could, based on what he grafted where, determine how it morphed.
Today, there are 18 of these wondrous trees across the country, with three more being planted this spring in Illinois, Michigan and California. Seven are located in New York—including the very first Tree of 40 Fruit that’s still on the Syracuse campus—and six more are in a small grove in Portland, Maine. Other individual trees, reportedly costing up to $30,000, have been purchased for private homes and museums, such as the 21C Museum/Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas. That one, says Van Aken, may be the “most beloved” of his trees. “From the day it was planted,” he says, “it seemed to have some draw for people.”
The kindest cut
While it takes precision, the grafting required to create these multi-fruit trees is not that complicated a process. Van Aken, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, takes a slice of a fruit tree that includes buds and inserts it into a matching incision in a host tree, one that’s been growing for at least three years. He then wraps electrical tape around the spot to hold the pieces together. When all goes well, the “veins,” he says, of the different trees flow into each other so that they share a vascular system.
Other times, Van Aken uses a type of grafting involving just the buds. He removes healthy buds from a tree in February and stores them in a freezer until August. Then, he trims buds off a host tree’s branches and replaces them with the ones that have been in cold storage. He wraps the new buds in plastic, creating a greenhouse effect, and the following spring cuts off any of the remaining old buds near the graft. The idea, says Van Aken, is to trick the host tree into believing the new pieces are part of itself. He explained how the Tree of 40 Fruit came to be at a TED talk in Manhattan last year.
For three years after one of his trees is sited, the artist visits it twice a year, once in the spring to prune the branches and again in the summer to add more grafts. Van Aken estimates that it takes at least nine years for a Tree of 40 Fruit to reach its peak—that is five years for the grafts to develop and another four for the different fruit to appear.
Van Aken uses only trees that produce stone fruits, or those that have pits, because these species tend to be compatible with each other. He was able to gain access to almost 250 different varieties, but to the general public, most of these types of peaches, plums and apricots are unfamiliar, because they aren’t the preferred size or color and don’t have a shelf-life long enough to allow them to be sold in stores. But that means people are missing out on a wide variety of taste sensations. Some of the fruits, Van Aken says, are so sweet, “they’ll hurt your teeth,” and others are sour.
The art project, in this sense, gradually became a means of conservation. Van Aken is doing his part to keep these fruit species from disappearing.
In fact, his work with lesser known types of fruit attracted the attention of DARPA, the research arm of the Department of Defense. This past fall he met with people from the agency’s Biological Technologies Office to share what he has learned about preserving heirloom and native varieties of fruit.
While he continues to create Trees of 40 Fruit, Van Aken’s agricultural focus is broadening. His latest project, based on the German concept of streuobstweise, or community orchards, is a step toward not only educating communities about the fruits native to their region, but also in engaging a younger generation in the fading tradition of growing food. Van Aken, art historian and entrepreneur Chris Thompson and some local businesses and community groups hope to start their first streuobstweise in Freeport, Maine. Some multi-fruit trees will be planted in the orchard, but most of the trees will provide only one type of fruit—the goal being to bring back local varieties that most people have never tasted.
“The Trees of 40 Fruit were a way for me to collapse an entire orchard into one tree to preserve varieties and diversity,” says Van Aken. “But if the Tree of 40 Fruit is collapse, the streuobstweise is explosion, returning these varieties to individual trees.”
Beautiful tree grows over 40 kinds of fruit
Sam Van Aken
Horticultural grafting has been in use for millennia. It involves taking the branches of one tree — the part of the graft known as the scion — and inserting it into another — known as the stock — so that the two parts grow together and form one single tree. It can be decorative, but it has practical uses, too; grafting a fruit scion to a stock with a hardier root system, for example.
For art professor Sam Van Aken, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, it’s a little bit of both: his art project, Trees of 40 Fruit, started in 2008, is a thing of beauty with a more practical purpose: reviving heirloom fruit varieties.
Sam Van Aken
“As a symbolic number found throughout western religion, culture, and even within government, the number 40 symbolises the infinite, a bounty that is beyond calculation. Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees are a potential; they are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in,” Van Aken’s website reads.
“The far-reaching implications of these sculptures include issues of genetic engineering, biodiversity versus food monoculture, and, ultimately, the symbiosis of humankind’s relation to nature. As an allegorical sculpture Van Aken’s Trees of 40 Fruit begins a dialogue.”
So far, Van Aken has grown 16 of his trees, installed in museums, community centres and private art collections around the US. Each tree consists of three distinct parts: the rootstock, the interstock — the central part of the tree, chosen for its strength, either a European or Asian plum variety — and the scions, which form the tree’s branches.
For the fruit, Van Aken tries to select heirloom and locally grown stone fruits, which may not be deemed commercially viable (see the popularity of orange carrots compared to yellow, white and purple for an example of how perceived commercial viability can lead to a lack of variety). He then chip grafts these onto the interstock.
“In trying to find different varieties of stone fruit to create the Tree of 40 Fruit, I realized that for various reasons, including industrialization and the creation of enormous monocultures, we are losing diversity in food production and that heirloom, antique, and native varieties that were less commercially viable were disappearing,” Van Aken explained to Epicurious.
Sam Van Aken
“I saw this as an opportunity to, in some way, preserve these varieties. In addition to maintaining these varieties in my nursery, I graft them to the Tree of 40 Fruit. Additionally, when I place a Tree of 40 Fruit, I go to local farmers and growers to collect stone fruit varieties and graft them to the trees. 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.”
Each tree takes around five years to develop and has a selection of apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries. In the spring, its branches are festooned with a riot of pink, purple and white blossoms; in the summer, a rainbow of fruit.
Eventually, Van Aken would like to plant his trees all across America.
WTF?! This 1 Tree Grows 7 Different Kinds of Fruit. No Joke!
No, Willy Wonka did not expand his world of pure imagination to include both a chocolate factory and a magical orchard. The “fruit salad tree”—a single shrub that can grow up to seven different kinds of fruit from the same family on its branches—actually exists.
While the concept is totally mind blowing, these trees are developed through an age-old horticultural process called grafting that joins together tissues from two or more plants. Since grafting creates specialized hybrids, the variety of multi-fruit trees are as vast as the fruits they can yield: from one that can produce various apples (red! green! yellow!) for the cider and pie-obsessed, to another that can grow up to seven kinds of citrus, including oranges, lemons, and even pomelos at once. Since each type of fruit has its own harvest time, these trees produce a steady flow of produce once it’s been carefully pruned. You’ll never run out of ingredients for a killer smoothie ever again.
Imagine planting a few varieties in your backyard or each in a pot on your porch (these trees have no problem producing full-sized fruit in a crowded urban landscape)—your grocery list just got dramatically smaller now that a variety of fresh, tree-ripened fruit is at your fingertips.
It’s not all so effortless though: these trees require some TLC while they’re growing as well as seasonal upkeep, so if you’re thumb isn’t green or you’re not down for a commitment, stick to perusing your supermarket’s offerings. Alternately, for those who view gardening as their moment of zen, these trees seem like a golden ticket towards a more self-sustainable lifestyle.
A handful of producers around the world sell multi-grafted trees for home gardens, including Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, California and the Fruit Salad Tree Co. in New South Wales, Australia. Prices vary according to the tree type and number of grafts, so the more kinds of fruit it bears, the more costly it will be. But since they’re completely tailored to your taste, we can’t imagine how they wouldn’t be worth it.
What do you think of this fruit salad tree? Would you deal with the upkeep or would you rather depend on your local markets for fresh fruit? Tell us in the comments below.
What Is A Fruit Salad Tree: Tips On Fruit Salad Tree Care
You know how fruit salad has multiple types of fruit in it, right? Pretty much pleases everyone since there is a variety of fruit. If you don’t like one type of fruit, you can spoon up only the fruit chunks you love. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a tree that would grow multiple types of fruit just like a fruit salad? Is there a fruit salad tree? Folks, we’re in luck. There is indeed such a thing as a fruit salad tree. What is a fruit salad tree? Read on to find out and all about fruit salad tree care.
What is a Fruit Salad Tree?
So you love fruit and want to grow your own, but your gardening space is limited. Not enough room for multiple fruit trees? No problem. Fruit salad trees are the answer. They come in four different types and bear up to eight different fruits of the same family on the one tree. Sorry, it doesn’t work to have oranges and pears on the same tree.
The other great thing about fruit salad trees is that the fruit ripening is staggered so you don’t have a giant harvest ready all at once. How did this miracle come about? Grafting, an old method of asexual plant propagation, is being used in a newer way to accommodate multiple types of fruit on the same plant.
Grafting is used to add one or more new cultivars onto an existing fruit or nut tree. As mentioned, oranges and pears are too different and won’t graft on the same tree so different plants from the same family must be used in the grafting.
There are four different fruit salad trees available:
- Stone fruit – gives you peaches, plums, nectarine, apricots, and peachcots (a cross between a peach and apricot)
- Citrus – bears oranges, mandarins, tangelos, grapefruit, lemons, limes and pomelos
- Multi apple – puts out a variety of apples
- Multi nashi – includes various Asian pear varieties
Growing Fruit Salad Trees
First, you need to correctly plant your fruit salad tree. Soak the tree overnight in a bucket of water. Gently loosen the roots. Dig a hole a bit wider than the root ball. If soil is heavy clay, add some gypsum. If it is sandy, amend with organic compost. Fill in the hole and water in well, tamping out any air pockets. Mulch around the tree to retain moisture and stake if necessary.
Fruit salad tree care is pretty much the same as that for any fruiting tree. Keep the tree moist at all times to avoid stress. Mulch around the tree to retain moisture. Reduce the amount of watering during the winter months as the tree goes dormant.
Fertilize the tree twice a year in the late winter and again in the late summer. Compost or aged animal manure work great or use a slow release fertilizer mixed into the soil. Keep the fertilizer away from the trunk of the tree.
The fruit salad tree should be in full sun to part sun (except the citrus variety which needs full sun) in an area sheltered from wind. Trees can be grown in containers or directly in the ground and can even by espaliered to maximize space.
The first fruit should appear in 6-18 months. These should be removed when still tiny to allow the framework of all the grafts to develop.
They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but did you know a salad can? Over the past 20 years farmers James and Kerry West have developed what they called Fruit Salad Trees – one potted plant that can grow a variety of fruits all at once! The miracle plants come in varieties like citrus, stone fruits and multi-apples, growing all the ingredients for a delicious fruit salad on one plant!
The Wests dreamed up the fruit salad tree back in the early 1990s, and slowly began experimenting with saplings. By gradually cutting, taping together and grafting different kinds of trees, they finally were able to get the fruit bearers to harmonize, forming one unified tree.
The Fruit Salad Trees can bear up to six different kinds of fruits, like peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and peachcots, or even oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Raised in Australia, the plants can be shipped worldwide, with a tree to suit every climate.
Urban farmers can even partake in the magic of the Fruit Salad Tree, as the plants do well in fields, but also in indoor planters. Fruit Salad Trees are a great way to grow a variety of home grown fruits when you have little space. They do say variety is the spice of life!
+ Fruit Salad Tree
Via ABC News
The Gift Of Graft: New York Artist’s Tree To Grow 40 Kinds Of Fruit
Sam Van Aken’s grafted fruit trees are still quite young, but this artist rendering shows what he expects the “Tree of 40 Fruit” to look like in springtime in a few years. Courtesy of Sam Van Aken hide caption
toggle caption Courtesy of Sam Van Aken
Sam Van Aken’s grafted fruit trees are still quite young, but this artist rendering shows what he expects the “Tree of 40 Fruit” to look like in springtime in a few years.
Courtesy of Sam Van Aken
It sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss, but artist Sam Van Aken is developing a tree that blooms in pink, fuchsia, purple and red in the spring — and that is capable of bearing 40 different kinds of fruit.
No, it’s not genetic engineering. Van Aken, an associate professor in Syracuse University’s art department, used an age-old technique called grafting to attach branches from 40 different kinds of stone fruit onto a single tree. It’s called the “Tree of 40 Fruit.” Weekend Edition’s Arun Rath spoke to Van Aken about the project, and what inspired it.
Van Aken recently grafted these stone fruit onto his “Tree of 40 Fruit.” Sam Van Aken hide caption
toggle caption Sam Van Aken
Van Aken recently grafted these stone fruit onto his “Tree of 40 Fruit.”
Sam Van Aken
“I’m an artist. So the whole project really began with this idea of creating a tree that would blossom in these different colors and would bear these multitude of fruit,” he says.
But he soon discovered that it was actually pretty hard to find so many distinct varieties of stone fruit in New York, he explains in his presentation at TEDx Manhattan. “I realized the extent to which we’ve created these massive monocultures.” Most grocery stores and markets only stock a few varieties — and most of them are grown in California.
But then Van Aken came across the New York State Agricultural Experimentation Station. “It was the largest orchard of its kind in the Northeast, perhaps even east of the Rockies,” he says.
The 3-acre plot contained all sorts of varieties of stone fruit, he says. “And they all had these amazingly different tastes.”
That’s when he started to understand the history behind these fruits, he says. “Then really became about preserving some of these antique and heirloom varieties.”
The state wanted to close the operation down due to a lack of funding, so Van Aken purchased it in 2008.
His 16 trees around the country are composed of mainly antique and native stone fruit varieties, including peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines. In his TEDx talk, Van Aken says he’s worked with 250 varieties of stone fruit at this point.
“I’m working with cherries; I’ve had limited success with that,” he says. “I also graft almonds to them, because the almond blossoms are just absolutely amazing.”
The process of building up these trees has taken years and a lot of patience. Van Aken starts with what’s called a stock plan. He then inserts small, budding branches from other trees at strategic points throughout the stock tree. He tapes these grafts in place and lets them heal and and bond with their new base over the winter months. If all goes well, the grafts will start to grow in the spring.
The technique has been around for thousands of years, Van Aken says. “It appears on hieroglyphs in Egypt.”
These days many commercial fruit trees are grafted — growers choose base trees that work well in their climate. And, Van Aken says, “nurseries now, what they’ll do is they’ll sell combination trees, which are two varieties that will cross-pollinate each other, so you’ll get a better fruit set.”
As we’ve reported, a group of dedicated fruit fans in San Francisco are even using the technique to get the barren trees along city sidewalks to bear cherries, pears and apples.
Van Aken’s trees are still quite young — his rendering shows what he expects them to look like in a few years. For now, he says, he’s battling the squirrels, chipmunks, deer and groundhogs that are threatening his labors of love.
“I get very Caddyshack,” he says, laughing. “I’m a lot like Bill Murray during the summer.”