Sam Aken is an art professor at the University Of Syracuse, US. After growing up on a farm, he became an artist and it’s with these two that he has been able to develop the unbelievable Tree of 40 Fruit. In 2008, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was shutting down an orchard due to funding problems. The orchard was home to a number of antique, heirloom and native stone fruit varieties; some of which were about 150 to 200 years old. Losing this orchard would have meant the extinction of these rare fruits. Aken bought this orchard and dedicated the years that followed learning ways to graft parts of these trees onto one single fruit tree; in a project he called “Tree of 40 Fruit”.
He worked with over 250 varieties and developed a timeline that showed when each fruit blossomed in relation to others. He started by grafting few of these onto the root structure of a working tree. Two years later, he used the chip grafting method to add more varieties as separate branches. The chip grafting technique helped him take a sliver from a fruit tree (including the bud), insert it into an incision made on the working tree and tape the sliver into place. This is left to heal over winter. If the branch grows well, it’s pruned back so that it can grow as a normal branch on the tree.
Five years later and after grafting several branches, Aken has his first tree of 40 fruits. The tree looks normal most of the year but during spring, a stunning patchwork of white, red, pink, and purple blossoms. These then turn into peaches, plums, almonds, nectarines, cherries and apricots during the summer. They are all unique and rare varieties. The plant is not only beautiful; it preserves the world’s diversity of stone fruit. They are grown for commercial use mostly and are selected depending on their largeness, their look and taste. This therefore means that out of hundreds of stone fruits grown all over the world, only a few are commercially viable.
Aken has been able to grow 16 trees so far and they can be found in museums, private art collections and community centers around the US. He picked the stone fruits inter-compatibility and diversity. He also added garlic and peppermint to keep away the deers. His plan is to grow this variety of trees in a city setting. Does he eat the fruits or what happens to them afterwards?
“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 fruit ripen at different times, from July through October, you also aren’t inundated. Personally, I give away most of the fruit that comes from my trees,” he said.