Artist Sam Van Aken has been working on making a tree that bears forty different kinds of fruits. Some of the fruits that he worked with are many varieties of plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and peaches. He considers his tree a piece of art and he calls it the “Tree of 40 fruit”.
Sam got the inspiration for this tree by the idea of a hoax that he thinks “transforms reality.” In the video, he says that he planted the tree in a place where people could stumble upon it and be amazed at why its leaves have different shapes and colors. In spring, people would notice that the blossoms have a range of colors too, and in summer a lot of fruit varieties could be seen growing on only one tree.
As an art piece, it seems like an almost utopian fruit garden packed in only one tree but when Sam started his project, he found out that all that variety of fruit that he needed was not available in the grocer’s shops that were close to him. So obtaining the 40 different types of fruit has proved to be a very challenging task for him. Eileen Mignoni, a journalist working with National Geographic made the video about Sam Van Aken and his project as soon as she heard about it.
She was also intrigued by the fruit varieties that were rarer to find and because the fastest-growing fruits and the most shipping resistant ones are becoming more and more prevalent on the market everywhere. For example, the state of New York was the largest plum maker in the 1920s but now, they’re not growing as many plums and the number of plum varieties that they grow has been brought to a minimum.
It was a big challenge for Sam Van Aken to find all the varieties of fruit that were compatible with one another so that they could all be grafted on one single tree. It sounds like a recipe for a disaster but grafting is petty common and normal in agriculture. The highest quality plum trees are the result of a good grafting.
Eileen Mignoni loved how the tree gave life to the almost forgotten practice of grafting. She also says that there’s a huge genetic variation in the seed of a plum so the chances to get a high-quality plum from seed are very low and that’s why you have to resort to grafting for a good quality plum tree.
Eventually, Sam started his project experimenting on some orchards in an experiment station for agriculture in New York where he successfully grafted all the varieties he wanted onto one single base tree. The whole process took many years to finish.
He explains that he starts grafting very meticulously by fixating around twenty kinds of fruit in a tree that he plants later in a nursery. After that, during several years he will come back to the tree and graft additional fruits. More than sixty types of fruit will be grafted but later pruned to become forty. His project made him feel responsible for propagating plant diversity even though he didn’t want to make any statements about monocultures. He had been told by other farmers that the varieties that he cultivated might be the only ones and he felt like he needed to keep them alive and accessible to all the public. He even decided to start a sampling orchard where farmers could go and take samples for them to grow by themselves. The first one of these orchards he plans to set up in Freeport, Maine and he’s giving it a German name Streuobstwiese which fittingly means ‘orchard’.
He also has a plan to write a recipe book that includes the almost forgotten fruits that grow on his tree. With this book, he plans to bring back the taste of the past when these fruits were much more common around people. The book will also include a tutorial on how to grow your own forty fruit tree if you’re feeling overly ambitious.