By Chris Ramírez, age 11
Surely just one tree could never grow a whole fruit salad? Well, it turns out one can, and it’s all thanks to Sam Van Aken, an art professor at Syracuse University in New York.
The Tree of 40 Fruit does exactly what its name suggests: It grows 40 different fruits all at the same time. Sam achieved this fruitful phenomenon back in 2008 through a process called grafting. Grafting is where you take a branch from one tree and connect it to a different type of tree. Sam cuts a branch with buds from one tree and puts it on another tree, joining the two separate branches with a plastic tape which creates a greenhouse effect.
After approximately nine years, these “frankentrees” start growing all different kinds of stone fruit, such as peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, and almonds. Sam explains that he uses stone fruits because they have similar genetics, which makes it easier for them to grow together.
Sam refers to himself as an artist, but he is also a nature enthusiast. He grew up in Reading, Pa., and as a child, he used to spend his time helping out on his family’s farm. The 40 Fruit Tree is an interactive art installation and a project in conservation. Many of the fruits that grow on the trees are rare varieties of stone fruit which are no longer grown by most people. Sam hopes that the 40 Fruit Tree will bring people back to their roots and remind them how diverse our world is.
At present, Sam has created 16 such trees, placed at museums, art collectors’ homes and community centers around the country. Sam’s latest project is a community orchard in Maine, where he hopes to educate the local community about the native fruits and also engage younger people and teach them how to grow food.