A modern-day Dr. Seuss
Artist Sam Van Aken is pushing the boundaries of traditional modes of art. He is a contemporary artist who interweaves genres of art, botany, agriculture, climatology and fine-tunes them with technology to create wonders. His latest being the Tree of 40 Fruit .
The Tree of 40 Fruit has been likened by many people to something out of a Dr. Seuss illustration. You really cannot blame them. How many times do you walk down your local road and see a tree with multiple colors and fruits? Not ever, I’d imagine. Regardless, this tree is 100 percent real with edible fruits.
Where it all started
Sam grew up on a farm in Reading, Pennsylvania. Currently, he is an Associate Professor in the School of Art at Syracuse University.
He began working on this project in 2008. It was the information he got about the pending closure of a 3-acre orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station that prompted him to acquire it .
The orchard had been home to a vast number of antique, native varieties of stone fruits or drupes, some of which were up to 200-years old. Sam, with his knowledge of agriculture, knew that there was a big risk of extinction facing those rare fruit variants.
After buying the orchard, he spent years trying to figure out the best way to create a multi-fruit tree by grafting parts of various trees onto it. Using the clip grafting method, he was able to successfully create a tree that could bear multiple fruits.
The tree itself can support fruits from a particular genus and he chose the Prunus genus to work with. He chose the prunes because they are easy-care trees with a high growth capability and a large number of available varieties.
Pushing the limits
Sam chose one tree as the stock tree and began the process of grafting buds from over 250 variants of stone fruits. The grafting takes place during the spring season and afterward, the buds heal and grow out on their own.
The tree itself is a living sculpture. When it blossoms, the tree is a lovely mix of white, pink, and red, all in different shades. A true sight for sore eyes.
Before the grafts grow into branches, Sam has already color-coded each branch on a sheet of paper to give an indication of which fruits will grow on the various branches. 5 years later, the trees had accumulated enough branches from the different trees, each branch with its own fruits including varieties of almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums.
As a testament to his precision, the tree grows out to look just like the drawing as it follows that exact pattern. During the first three years, Sam visited each tree about six times to prune and graft the various variants onto the stock trees.
A coat of many colors on a tree
There were 16 Trees of 40 Fruit produced by Sam as at 2014 and up to 20 such trees are available. You can find the trees in private collections as well as public locations such as gardens and museums. They are located in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arkansas, California and of course, New York, where the orchard was originally located.
The Tree of 40 Fruit is very unique and although there are not many of them yet, do not despair. Sam has plans of not only populating an orchard with them but planting more in several urban settings. Perhaps, in the future, you just might see trees like this while walking down your local road.
Imagine what can be done when one tree gives rise to so many of the above products, all in different flavors. The prospect is pretty amazing.
‘’I saw somewhere on a website where somebody said that the Tree of 40 Fruit will end world hunger. And it’s like, ‘No, it won’t. Not at all.’ But what it can do is, I like to think, that it can lead to that type of thinking,” said Sam.
The question of what happens to the fruit after being harvested was answered by Sam when he spoke to Lauren Salkeld at Epicurious in 2014.
“I’ve been told by people that have a tree at their home that it provides the perfect amount and perfect variety of fruit. So rather than having one variety that produces more than you know what to do with, it provides good amounts of each of the 40 varieties. Since all of these fruits ripen at different times, from July through October, you also aren’t inundated .”
Sam sees the tree as a piece of art, and rightly so.
‘’First and foremost, I see the tree as an artwork. Like the hoaxes I was doing, I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday. When the tree unexpectedly blossoms in different colors, or you see these different types of fruit hanging from its branches, it not only changes the way you look at it, but it changes the way you perceive things in general,” he said. 
Kudos to Sam Van Aken. Hopefully, he inspires more people to push the boundaries of what they think is possible.
- SAM VAN AKEN. Syracuse University. Admin. http://vpa.syr.edu/faculty-staff/sam-van-aken. Accessed 29-08-19.
- Tree of 40 Fruit. Wikipedia. Admin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_40_Fruit. Accessed 29-08-19.
- This Magical Tree Produces 40 Different Types of Fruit. Science Alert. Staff writer. https://www.sciencealert.com/40-types-of-fruit-tree-artwork-van-aken-2018. Accessed 29-08-19.
- Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit Looks a Dr. Seuss Illustration, But It’s Real. Wide Open Eats. Lyndsay Burginger. https://www.wideopeneats.com/tree-of-40-fruit/. Accessed 29-08-19.
- Admin. Grafting Clips – For every crop the right grafting clip. Royal Brinkman. https://royalbrinkman.com/promotion/featured-products/grafting-clips. Accessed 29-08-19
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