This Tree Grows 40 Kinds of Fruit

by Elizabeth Ballou

If you are a fruit fiend like me, you often experience sudden cravings for a juicy peach or a crisp Granny Smith apple. "Man, I could really use a plum right now," I will suddenly think, following no decipherable train of logic whatsoever. However, I usually have only a few browned bananas on hand, so my cravings tend to go unsatisfied. But with artist Sam Van Aken's Tree of 40 Fruits, all my fruit-related problems might be solved within the next few years.

Artist Sam Van Aken envisioned a tree that could grow a variety of different stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots, etc.), thus doing away with the necessity of growing a different tree for every type. As a sculptor, Aken wanted to design a tree that would be gorgeous, but also practical. He created a plan for a tree that would reasonably be able to grow 40 types of fruit, but also look stunning when it bloomed. Over the past few years, he's made his vision into a reality by grafting fruit-bearing trees together in a process called chip-grafting, which involves making a cut in the base tree, or "working tree," and inserting a budding branch from another kind of tree. It takes about five years for the process to come to fruition (OK, sorry, I had to make that pun and you can slap me now). If you want more details about how exactly he crafts a tree, you can watch his TEDxManhattan talk below:

Yes, you actually can create hybrid trees by taping branches together. Who knew?

Although Van Aken was originally inspired to create art, he soon realized that the tree could have widespread social and environmental impacts. "As the project evolved, it took on more goals," he told Epicurious:

"In trying to find different varieties of stone fruit to create the Tree of 40 Fruit, I realized that for various reasons, including industrialization and the creation of enormous monocultures, we are losing diversity in food production and that heirloom, antique, and native varieties that were less commercially viable were disappearing. I saw this as an opportunity to, in some way, preserve these varieties."

In addition, the tree could provide a major nutritional boost for those without access to many types of fruit. USDA recommends that you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies, but that isn't possible for everyone. With a Tree of 40 Fruits on hand, however, low-income families could rely on their own backyards for a fulfilling variety of stone fruit needs. For now, Van Aken has only planted about 70 trees, but they've been a success, so we can only hope they become more common in the near future (especially since trees save 850 lives a year!).

A young Tree of 40 Fruits

Although none of the trees is old enough to look like Van Aken's colorful renderings yet, that will come — it takes the average stone fruit tree six to eight years to even produce fruit. If we wait patiently, the trees should be producing culinary magic in just a few years. (And, you know, if eating fruit isn't your thing, you can use it. In the bedroom.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to see a guy about some plums. And peaches. And cherries.

Images: TEDxtalks/Youtube