The Modern Garden of Eden

The Tree of 40 Fruit

Lucy Zou
Staff Writer

As spring approaches and plants start creeping out from hiding, nature slowly regains its colors. A few years ago, nature inspired Sam Van Aken, an art professor from Syracuse University, to create the “Tree of 40 Fruits”. What distinguishes this tree from a regular fruit tree is that it can produce forty different kinds of pitted fruits such as peaches and prunes. He created this Frankenstein-like tree by using chip grafting. This horticultural technique consists of cutting a bud (known as the scion) off a fruit tree, making an incision in the rootstock (or the base) of the tree in which is inserted the scion and letting the graft heal. The rootstock produces a new tissue to feed the healing buds and to join both their tissues together so that they grow together and form a single tree. These buds become different branches of the final fruit tree and this whole process took Van Aken nine years to accomplish.

While this unique tree serves as an artistic decoration, it also has a practical purpose. It can be used to graft a fruit scion to a more robust root system to help the fruit grow or, in Van Aken’s case, to help conserve or revive heirloom fruit varieties to diversify food production in commercial markets. It became important to him after he learned that hundreds of varieties of stone fruits were not being cultivated due to industrialization and monocultures. Therefore, he has planted more of his trees and each of them grows a different combination of fruits, so in total his project uses more than 250 varieties. It thus allowed fruits to be grown more efficiently and in any environment.

Finally, to fulfill his desire to produce art, his trees are grown in art museums, university campuses and private land in the United States to add color to them.

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