From one tree comes many fruits Sam Van Aken poses with a Tree of 40 Fruit at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. The tree project is an outgrowth of Van Aken’s work as a sculptor. He calls his creations like the one at Syracuse the Tree of 40 Fruit, and the trees provide both juicy fruit and food for thought about preserving agricultural heritage. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
From one tree comes many fruits
Lexile

Plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries all grow on just one of Sam Van Aken's fruit trees. The trees blossom in a burst of red, white and pink each spring.
 
The artist calls his creations the Tree of 40 Fruit. And the tree at Syracuse University, and others like it really does bear 40 or more varieties of stone fruit. That is thanks to carefully planned grafts.
 
The hybrid trees provide both juicy fruit and food for thought about preserving agricultural heritage. But most of all, Van Aken wants to provoke a response.
 
"When somebody happens upon it and they see it blossom in these different colors and they see it growing all these different fruit ... there is this rethinking. There is this sort of moment that sort of interrupts the everyday," said Van Aken. He teaches art at the university.
 
Van Aken's first 40-fruit tree has been located for the past four years on the edge of a campus green. On a recent broiling summer day, Van Aken plucked a few yellow plums the size of golf balls. Then he ducked under a low branch to give a trunk-to-leaf tour. He started with a plum rootstock and over the years, grafted on a cornucopia of fruit.
 
"Right here is a nectarine. It comes out on a plum base. But it continues to grow up here, until you have peaches on the end," he said. "There are a couple of apricots that have been grafted on, and this out on the end is a red-leaf plum variety."
 
The tree project is an outgrowth of Van Aken's work as a sculptor. One used to working with nontraditional materials. Early on, he considered arranging different trees that blossomed at different times before realizing he could "collapse the entire orchard on to one tree." He decided to work with stone fruit - that is, fruit with pits.
 
"It actually started with a Tree of 100 Fruit," he said with a laugh. "I was sort of ambitious."
 
He eventually settled on 40. The number is rich with biblical allusions, such as the 40 days and 40 nights of rain when Noah built an ark and the amount of time Jesus fasted. Van Aken was inspired to include harder-to-find fruits after reading a century-old book, "The Plums of New York."  The book listed hundreds upon hundreds of varieties. The abundance was strikingly different from the few types of purple plums found in modern supermarkets.
 
He stocked the campus nursery where he works with antique and heirloom varieties. Those include some from a now-defunct research orchard. Over time, he has collected more than 40 varieties of plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries and almonds that he can graft to his trees.
 
The trees can turn heads in the spring. The multicolored blossoms signal something unusual. But people who walked by the Syracuse University tree on a recent day barely looked up from their phones to notice the small differences in fruit from branch to branch. University employee Karen Davis said she had heard of Van Aken's tree. But she said she walked by it at least twice a day without realizing it.
 
"I heard about the tree but I did not know it was right here," said Davis, who called it "fantastic."
 
Van Aken said there are 16 trees sited around the nation. Most of them are in the Northeast. More are being grown and grafted in the nursery. They include eight that will be planted in downtown Syracuse next year. Syracuse is in New York.
 
Several of the trees have been donated. The cost of the others depends on his travel expenses. Each tree is planted with 20 varieties grafted to it. He returns twice a year for three years after each planting to graft the rest of the varieties.
 
The trees keep him busy April through September, but he likes the fact that this is a unique type of sculpture that keeps on evolving.
 
"Every year it is something different. It appears different. It is radically different than it was six months previous," he said. "And that part has been the most rewarding part."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How is the tree a work of art?
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COMMENTS (10)
  • melissaj-Ste
    8/31/2015 - 09:15 a.m.

    This Tree of 40 Fruit is definitely a work of art. It is, and continues to be, Van Aken's work of art because he created one and is in the processing of growing more. What else makes it a work of art are the different colors it gives off. Not only do the flowers vary in color and shade, the fruit that grows from those flowers also comes in foreign from the other fruits. The Tree of 40 Fruit is an abstract work of man and nature together in harmony.

  • amere-rod
    9/03/2015 - 12:12 p.m.

    This is a wonderful idea and i want to know how much would one be worth because it would make a wonderful fathers day present for my dad, I never usually get him anything but this would by far be the best gift he's ever had!

  • fernandez,sienna-cas
    9/08/2015 - 03:37 p.m.

    1. This tree is like a work of art because it is made up of all these different pieces. It has multiple parts to it which makes it more interesting. It also takes time to plan. It varies in color and fruit.

    2. I love this article. I never knew this was possible. The idea of using grafting all these different trees together to make this super tree is amazing. I want one of these trees in my yard. This tree is definitely a work of art.

  • Jason0421-YYCA
    9/10/2015 - 09:16 p.m.

    I think that it is amazing to know Sam Van Aken's fruit trees have stone fruit. I think that the Sam Van Aken's fruit trees is very interesting because this fruit tree was combined by multiple other fruit trees. I believe that this tree is considered a work of art from how intricate the tree design is.

  • kieranw-3-bar
    9/11/2015 - 11:18 a.m.

    This is truly interesting

  • madisonr-
    9/21/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    The tree is a work if art because it has many different types of fruits. Also, because the tree is rare, and the trees that are existing are in the Northeast.

  • kennedy,ebony-cas
    9/21/2015 - 05:42 p.m.

    This tree is definitely a work of art. Van Aken's beautiful sculpture is being planted all over and it has so many fruits growing on it! Such as peaches,cherries,and plums. I would love to go see this sculpture in Syracuse,New York. It has such vibrant colors I don't know how people could not notice and take the time out of their day to gaze upon this incredible piece of art work!(:

  • makaylap-hor
    12/14/2015 - 02:59 p.m.

    This tree of 40 fruits is a work of art. It art because he created one and is in the processing of growing more. Not only do the flowers vary in color and shade, but the fruit grows from those flowers.

  • liama-hol
    2/10/2016 - 05:59 p.m.

    I would want a tree that has 40 other fruits.

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