August 10, 2014 - It sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss, but artist Sam Van Aken is developing a tree that blooms in pink, fuchsia, purple and red in the spring — and that is capable of bearing 40 different kinds of fruit.
No, it's not genetic engineering. Van Aken, an associate professor in Syracuse University's art department, used an age-old technique called grafting to attach branches from 40 different kinds of stone fruit onto a single tree. It's called the "Tree of 40 Fruit." Weekend Edition's Arun Rath spoke to Van Aken about the project, and what inspired it.
Van Aken recently grafted these stone fruit onto his "Tree of 40 Fruit." Sam Van Aken
"I'm an artist. So the whole project really began with this idea of creating a tree that would blossom in these different colors and would bear these multitude of fruit," he says.
But he soon discovered that it was actually pretty hard to find so many distinct varieties of stone fruit in New York, he explains in his presentation at TEDx Manhattan. "I realized the extent to which we've created these massive monocultures." Most grocery stores and markets only stock a few varieties — and most of them are grown in California.
But then Van Aken came across the New York State Agricultural Experimentation Station. "It was the largest orchard of its kind in the Northeast, perhaps even east of the Rockies," he says.
The 3-acre plot contained all sorts of varieties of stone fruit, he says. "And they all had these amazingly different tastes."
That's when he started to understand the history behind these fruits, he says. "Then [the project] really became about preserving some of these antique and heirloom varieties.