Amazing Inventions: The Forty-Fruit Tree

Amazing Inventions: The Forty-Fruit Tree

Amazing Inventions: The Forty-Fruit Tree

image of tree blossomingSam Van Aken is an art professor at Syracuse University who grew up on a family farm in Reading, Pennsylvania.He wanted to create an art project using an orchard as his canvas and blossoming trees as his paint.

However, he couldn’t get funding for his idea so he decided instead to scale it down to one tree.

Van Aken started his research on creating a multi-blossoming tree by studying grafting. “I had seen grafting when I was a kid and it was something that I was always fascinated with,” he said.

He quickly discovered that there were a wide variety of stone fruits such as peaches, apricots, nectarines and cherries, that were inter-compatible with each other, which meant they could possibly grow on the same tree.

fruits growing on forty-fruit treeThe grafting technigue to do this is called chip grafting. You take a sliver of a branch with a bud from one tree and insert into an incision of your working tree.


By grafting different varieties of buds, Van Aken hoped to sculpt how and when the tree would blossom and when it would grow various kinds of fruit.

When he started looking for different varieties of buds he could use – he discovered another problem – they’re hard to find.

Because of the commercialization of food production many varieties of stone fruit, among other foods, are not grown because they don’t have a viable shelf life for transportation and storage.

But this doesn’t mean these varieties taste bad. Quite the contrary, “These varieties are so rich in their taste,” says Van Aken, “The plums that I love are the greengage plums and they came to the United States from England, but were actually in France before that.”

photo of greengage plumFortunately, Van Aken found an orchard that had hundreds of varieties of stone fruit. It belonged to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

This was a facility established by the New York State Legislature in 1880 to conduct agricultural science research. Since 1923 it has been operated by Cornell University and has preserved hundreds of native and antique stone fruit varieties.

With buds in hand, Van Aken began grafting a plum tree with 40 varieties of stone fruit, a process that takes about five years before the buds grow into branches.

Forty-fruit trees can be found at selected museums, private collections and community centers in the United States. Since the fruits grow and ripen at different times of the year, the forty-fruit continually yields fruit from July to October.

Van Aken is growing a forty-fruit orchard in Portland, Maine, where he plans to allow the public to purchase the fruit harvests.

Sources: ted.com/tedx; treeof40fruit.com Photo/Image Credits: Sam Van Aken, Ronald Feldman Fine Art

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