New York-based artist Sam Van Ken created a tree of 40 fruits using the ancient technique of “chip grafting.” His family lives in Pennsylvania, and he grew up on the family farm. He’s an associate professor of sculpture at Syracuse University.
Therefore, each tree produces forty different types of stone fruit of the genus Prunus, ripening sequentially from July to October in the United States. The Tree of 40 Fruits is fruiting in the artist’s nursery, where each spring the tree’s blossom is a mix of different shades of red, pink, and white. Thus, a variety of fruit was harvested from one of the trees in one week, in August 2011.
Van Aken had produced 16 Trees of 40 Fruit, installed in a variety of private and public locations, including community gardens, museums, and private collections. In the chip grafting technique, which involves cutting the buds off a fruit tree and having them heal to the lateral branches of a rootstock tree, branches from the different fruit trees grow off of the rootstock, which is naturally a tree variety natural to the area’s climate and soil. This lets fruit be grown in areas that might not otherwise support that type of tree.
In 2008, he was looking for specimens to create a multicolored blossom tree as an art project; then he acquired the 3-acre orchard of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which was closing due to funding cuts. He started to graft buds from more than 250 heritage varieties grown there, some unique, onto a stock tree.
Therefore, the tree was nourishing. Over the course of 5 years, the tree accumulated branches from forty different “donor” trees, each with a different fruit, including almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, nectarines, and plum varieties. He has plans to populate a city orchard with trees.
Van Aken tries to include local fruits on each of his trees, as well as varieties that aren’t commercially available. And once they happened upon one of these trees, they would start to question, ‘Why are the leaves shaped differently?’ ‘Why are there different colors? So, Van Aken’s trees can be found in Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.