The Tree of 40 Fruits

Exploring Sam Van Aken’s hybrid trees

background image from smithsonianmag.com

An unconventional type of tree

A single tree that grows forty different fruit — sounds impossible right? Wrong. In fact, there are over 20 trees across the United States just like that, thanks to the meticulous work of contemporary artist, Sam Van Aken.

Van Aken’s Trees of 40 Fruit specialize in producing what are known as “stone fruits,” ranging from items such as apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, and even almonds. Moreover, the diversity of Van Aken’s hybrid trees are so spectacular that they have evolved into somewhat of a conservation effort. You can find a variety of uncommon fruits on Van Aken’s trees that you wouldn’t be able to find at a normal grocery store.

a sample of the bounty of a Tree of Forty Fruit, image from orchardpeople.com

Beyond an array of fruit, in the springtime, the trees’ branches can also be found flaunting a kaleidoscope of pink and white colored blossoms.

images from smithsonianmag.com and samvanaken.com, respectively

So, how are these assorted trees, worth tens of thousands of dollars, brought to life?

image from samvanaken.com

Van Aken uses a precise grafting method to fuse the elements of different trees to a main “host tree.” In this process, Van Aken will make an incision into the host tree and secure the parts of the foreign tree to the host using electrical tape. With the trees in such close proximity, the trees begin to synthesize their vascular systems and develop together.

In a similar technique, Van Aken can also transplant the buds of the foreign tree to the host. To do this, Van Aken will first remove the buds of the foreign tree and keep them in a freezer until the end of summer. Then, Van Aken simply cuts off some of the buds from the host tree and replaces them with the frozen buds. The new buds will be wrapped in plastic to encourage them to attach to the host tree.

As Van Aken explains:

The idea is to trick the host tree into believing the new pieces are part of itself.

Sam Van Aken, image from go-for-better.com

As Van Aken transplants more and more foreign elements to the host, the host becomes a single conglomerate tree that can produce many different fruits.

The work doesn’t end there though. Even after the five years have passed for the tree to adequately be established, Van Aken continues to monitor, adjust, and prune his trees by revisiting them a couple of times each year for the three years that follow.

Nature as art?

When Van Aken set out to create his Trees of 40 Fruit, he was aspiring to create a fresh take on modern art by using nature as his canvas.

In the words of the artist himself,

I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday. When the tree unexpectedly blossoms in different colors, or you see these different types of fruit hanging from its branches, it not only changes the way you look at it, but it changes the way you perceive [things] in general.

Extending beyond his famous Trees of 40 Fruit, Van Aken has also created many other unconventional, nature-inspired works.

images from samvanaken.com, from left to right: Orchid Graft, Tree Tag Graft, False Cloud

Van Aken’s workmanship challenges the boundaries of traditional artwork. As a viewer or an artist, Van Aken encourages all of us to explore new mediums beyond paints or inks. After all, looking at the world through an artist’s eyes is arguably more in-tree-guing.

“Abundance: The Tree of 40 Fruits.” Go for Better, Go for Better, go-for-better.com/life-hacks/abundance-tree-40-fruits/.

Rieland, Randy. “A Tree Grows 40 Different Types of Fruit.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 14 Jan. 2015, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/a-tree-grows-40-different-types-of-fruit-180953868/.

“TREE OF FORTY FRUIT #87: Spring 2020 Update.” The Rockwell Museum, Rockwell Museum, 2020, rockwellmuseum.org/blog/tree-of-forty-fruit-87-spring-2020-update/.

Van Aken, Sam. “Tree of 40 Fruit.” Sam Van Aken, www.samvanaken.com/tree-of-40-fruit-1.

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