The Tree of Forty Fruit
Edited by LMG Calla Victoria
Would you love to have a wonderful orchard bearing an abundance of fruit? Is this just a pipe dream because you do not have the space or the finances to take on such a project? Well your dream can become a reality in spite of having a postage-stamp sized backyard. Enter the Tree of Forty Fruit! Yes that's right, a single tree that blooms in an array of amazing hues and sets forty different fruits has arrived. This hybridized tree is the creation of award-winning contemporary artist and Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken.
Although a noted artist today he grew up on a family farm in Reading, Pennsylvania. And it was that merge of art and horticulture that lead to his amazing creation. As an artist he wanted to create a tree that bloomed in as many colors as the palette that he paints with, so Van Aken proceeded to graft segments of different trees together to that end. In the meantime an orchard with a plethora of heirloom fruit trees came available and he took up the lease basically to save the orchard from being destroyed. So now he has the orchard with all of these wonderful fruit varieties, while at the same he is grafting trees to complete his technicolor tree concept. Then he decided to start grafting these different fruit trees for their bloom hues to complete the color pallet for the trees he started. So not only are these tree making rainbows envious, but they are setting all of these different kinds of delicious fruit. As forty is the number of perfection, as Christ completing forty days in the wilderness, Van Aken decided that forty would be the perfect number of fruit for his trees.
Van Aken's first attempt at "art-iculture" was in 2008 when he grafted veggies together to create strange plants for his Eden exhibition, and shortly after that he started to work on the hybridized fruit trees that are now the Tree of Forty Fruit. Intrigued by the process known as transubstantiation (how the appearance of a thing remains the same while the reality changes), Van Aken transubstantiated fruit trees.
Each tree begins as a slightly odd-looking specimen resembling some kind of science project for most of the year. However in the spring, the trees bloom to reveal an incredibly striking and though-provoking example of what happens when nature inspires art. These trees bloom in different hues of pink, white, and crimson; then in late summer the trees set fruit and they bear more fruit over the course of several months. Van Aken's trees produce an incredible harvest of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and almonds; including many fruits you've never seen before.
Graciously wanting to share a good thing, Van Aken has created and placed 16 of these awesome trees in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the country, including Newton, Massachusetts; Pound Ridge, New York; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bentonville, Arkansas; and San Jose, California. Using a unique process he calls "sculpting through grafting," Van Aken creates trees that grow and support more than forty varieties of stone fruit including many heirlooms, antique, and native varieties. When Van Aken decides to donate one of these amazing trees, he first visits the geographic area and researches what grows best in that zone and creates for that perspective.
I think that what I like most about the concept of one tree bearing forty different fruit is that one has more of his/her harvest to keep. With all fruit trees, they will always bear more than you need so as you have so much of the same fruit you end up selling or giving most of it away. But with these trees you are harvesting many different kinds of fruit, so there is more variety to eat and less to discard. What a great idea!
Check out my "Gardening Tip of the Week."
This article is printed in the May 16, 2015 issue of Data News Weekly.
Remember, never get too busy to stop and smell the beautiful flowers!