Imagine a tree that could give you everything you wanted. No, it wouldn’t feature the long-fabled “money-growing-on-trees,” but it would feel just as magical— because it’s growing every fruit you could possibly imagine.
With a diverse harmony both beautiful and inspiring, this “Tree of 40 Fruit” is a exactly what its name suggests, but it’s not the result of a natural phenomenon or a magical wizard.
Instead, it’s the brainchild of Sam Van Aken, an artist and Syracuse University professor dedicated to spreading diversity— and beauty.
Van Aken creates the gorgeous trees through the process of grafting, where two plants are joined together to create a hybrid. He calls the process “sculpting through grafting,” and tells Epicurious:
I currently work with over 250 varieties of stone fruit and developed a timeline of when they blossom in relationship to each other. By grafting these different varieties onto the tree in a certain order I can essentially sculpt how the tree is to blossom [. . .] Stone fruits have [a] greater diversity among the species, and are the most inter-compatible. Although it gets tricky when you start to graft cherries, for the most part one can easily graft between plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and even almonds.
Each tree takes approximately five years to develop, and each has the capacity to produce 40 varieties of stone fruits at different times of the year. Thanks to the various seasonality within the one tree, spring brings a cacophony of colors with pink, violet, white and even magenta blooms, while summer signals the arrival of the incredible variety of fruits. The first fruits come into season in July, and the bounty continues until the last ones in October.
There are 16 trees around the United States, everywhere from Maine to Arkansas to California, and appearing in locales as simple as somebody’s yard and as prestigious as university arboretums. Van Aken visits each tree twice a year – once in spring to prune, once in summer to graft – until the trees are established enough to thrive on their own, usually after about three years. He gives most of the fruits away.
While the results of the project are excitingly, awe-inspiringly new, the grafting process is actually ancient, appearing – as Van Aken tells NPR – “on hieroglyphs in Egypt.” The implications for this kind of diversity, though, are also inspiringly modern, and being put to use all over; NPR reports that gardeners in San Francisco are even bringing barren trees back to life with the process.
As for Van Aken? He’ll keep grafting and planting, telling Epicurious that he “would like to continue to place these trees throughout the country preserving these heirloom, antique, and native fruit varieties. Wherever I place them there is a sense of wonderment that they create through their blossoms, the different fruit, and the process by which they are created.” Wonderment, indeed.
To learn more about the project – and to see more incredible images of these trees – check out The Tree of 40 Fruit site, and watch this report from National Geographic.