This Magical Tree Is A Farmer’s Market On Branches

Courtesy of Sam Van Aken/National Geographic
Covered in pink and crimson flowers, the Tree Of 40 Fruit seems straight out of the planet Pandora. It seems even more otherworldly when you learn that it bears, true to its namesake, a whopping 40 variations of heirloom stone fruits — such as cherries, peaches, plums, and almonds. Created and cultivated by artist and Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken, the project first started for reasons of pure curiosity: Why not play around with tree grafting in a personal nursery and make something cool? Van Aken told National Geographic that his curiosity on the subject has deep, um, roots: "When I'd seen it done as a child, it was Dr. Seuss and Frankenstein and just about everything fantastic." The University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture defines graftage as "the joining of a bud or shoot to a plant with an established root system." In Van Aken's creations, he uses tape to adhere shoots, waiting until the cut essentially "heals" itself and fuses onto the main tree. And sadly, like other human-bred hybrids, the Tree Of 40 Fruit cannot reproduce on its own. The mad-scientist mentality is very much alive in Van Aken, as he meticulously draws diagrams for each tree to map out all of the grafts added, adding notes on when and how grafts should bloom. After approximately nine years of grafting and growing, what results from each diagram is nothing short of performance art — a living timeline of sorts for the many varieties of spring and summer fruit. There are now over a dozen Trees Of 40 Fruit spanning the country, located in museums and parks for people to stumble upon. Van Aken's own website declares that the trees are meant to be simple catalysts: "Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees are a potential; they are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in." We can certainly take a cue from the Tree of 40 Fruit; maybe we should take the time to stop and smell the cherry (and plum and peach and almond) blossoms more often.

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