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The Tree of 40 Fruit

What sounds like the title of a fantasy story is reality: The Tree of 40 Fruit bears 40 different stone fruits on one single tree.

Rendering shows how the trees might look like when they are older
The Tree of 40 Fruit.

The Tree of 40 Fruit is actually an art project of Sam Van Aken, an american associate professor in the art department at Syracuse University (US) and a contemporary artist. He created not just one, but 16 trees with 40 different fruits by grafting. Before we go a little bit more into detail, let’s have a look what grafting is:

What is grafting?

Grafting is an ancient but still regularly used horticultural technique, where you fuse two plants to a new single plant. Basically, one plant (the rootstock) serves as the “lower” part of the new plant and is normally selected for a quality trait in its roots. The “upper” part of the new plant (called the scion) is chosen because of its stem, special flowers or fruits. To fuse two plants together, several “cutting” techniques have been developed. Most typical is a so-called V graft, where the stem of the scion is cut into a V shape and placed into an opening in the stem of the rootstock. Both plants will fit into each other like a puzzle. However, the grafting technique depends on the aim of the fusion, the chosen varieties and grafted tissue (e.g. stems or branches). Once both stems are placed onto each other, the connection is stabilized with tape and left alone for some weeks. Grafting was done successfully once the vascular tissue of both plants grew together, creating one single functioning plant. There are  various reasons why you would graft two plants to a new one, just to mention a few: you can fuse a rootstock, which is resistant against a specific disease, with a scion containing desired fruits, but which is susceptible to this disease, you can easily propagate plants that are otherwise difficult to propagate asexually or you can use grafting to skip the juvenile phase in fruit trees (many fruit trees need to grow for years before they are able to bloom). Unfortunately, it is not clear how this technique was discovered, but there are sources dating back to 1000 BC, showing that grafting was already practiced back then.

Different grafting techniques

The grafting technique used in the project of Sam Van Aken was chip grafting. Here, a small part of the stem/branch of the scion is sliced open and placed on an equally large opening (or chip) of the branch of the rootstock. Have a look at the pictures:

Chip grafting used by Sam Van Aken

The art project

The story of the Tree of 40 Fruit started in 2008. The contemporary artist Sam was looking for different varieties of blooming trees that he could use to create a multi-coloured blossom tree. While doing so, he found a 1.2 ha large orchard of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, that was about to be shut down as it ran out of funding, and bought it. This gave him the possibility to experiment with more than 250 varieties of stone fruits that he found in this orchard. It took 5 years to create the first Tree of 40 Fruit, which includes fruits of plum, peach, apricot but also of cherry and almonds. Due to the fact that all these varieties flower at a different time point, the tree blooms from late winter/early spring until late spring. Sam van Aken didn’t stop just there. By now, there are 16 Trees of 40 Fruit growing in different locations all over the US.

Why exactly 40 fruits?

Of course, if an artist is creating a Tree of 40 Fruit, you already expect that 40 is not just a random number. Indeed, the number 40 was a choice. It symbolizes various things in western religion, culture and (as stated by the artist) the government.

"The number 40 symbolizes the infinite, a bounty that is beyond calculation. They [the trees] are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in. 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."-Roland Feldmann Fine Arts (Representation of Sam van Aken).

Indeed, a tree showing 40 different flowers and fruits in all kinds of colours is transforming the site it is standing in. Especially, if they are planted in the center of a huge city such as New York. The trees will make people stop their hectic and busy daily life to hold on and wonder - even if it might be just for a second.


Source and further reading:

A History of grafting. Mudge K., Janick J., Scofield S., Goldschmidt E. E.

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