The Tree of 40 Fruit

[Sam Van Aken] is working on a long-term project which literally will bear fruit. Forty different kinds, in fact. The Tree of 40 Fruit is a single tree, carefully grafted to produce 40 different varieties of fruit. Growing up on a farm, [Sam] was always fascinated by the grafting process – how one living plant could be attached to another.

In 2008, [Sam] was working as a successful artist and professor in New York when he learned a 200-year-old state-run orchard was about to be demolished. The stone fruit orchard was not only a grove a trees, but a living history of man’s breeding of fruit. Many unique varieties of stone fruit – such as heirloom peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots –  only existed in this orchard.

[Sam] bought the orchard and began to document the characteristics of the trees. Color, bloom date, and harvest date were all noted in [Sam’s] books. He then had the idea for a single tree which would bear multiple types of fruit. By using grafting techniques such as chip grafting, [Sam] was able to join the varieties of stone fruit tree. The process was very slow going. Grafts performed one year must survive through the winter before they grow the following spring.

Throughout the process, [Sam] kept careful diagrams of each graft. He planned the tree out so the fruit harvest wouldn’t be boring. Anyone who has a fruit tree tends to give away lots of fruit – because after a couple of weeks, they’re sick of eating one crop themselves! With [Sam’s] tree, It’s possible to have a nectarine with breakfast, a plum with lunch, and snack on almonds before dinner,  all from the same tree. The real beauty is in the spring. [Sam’s] tree blossoms into an amazing array of pinks, purples and whites. A living sculpture created by an artist with a bit of help from Mother Nature.

Click past the break for [Sam’s] TED talk.

58 thoughts on “The Tree of 40 Fruit

    1. Day 43, survivor’s log: Still looking for the joke… I fear my rations will disappear before I find it. Starting to get muscle cramps from the immense strain I put on my body…. will I make it in time?…

      1. It almost seems to be a failed attempt to reference Family Guy’s joke about the Emperor’s secret to Star Wars dialog: “something something something Dark Side. something something something Complete.”

    1. Man, exactly what I was gonna say. Impressive! Never even heard of grafting before (on plants). One of my goals is to squeeze the most food mass possible in a set space, but as was already mentioned pollen diversity for bees (and timing diversity as in when blooms happen) gets a boost from this.

      1. If you ever visit an orchard (I was home schooled and it was common for us to…) They explain all about grafting as it is a widespread practice. The primary benefit is you can graft a type of tree with a strong root system to a tree that produces better fruit thus you get an uber tree :D

        1. Yeah I grew up in “the ‘burbs”…I’m sure my dad knows of grafting as he grew up on a farm, but I’ve never been able to get an orchard going, it takes years! :( I really want to try it now tho :p

      2. I honestly think I remember learning about this in my elementary school science class text book. I know it is nothing new, but 40 different kinds of fruit is very ambitious and mind blowing.

  1. Wish I had some yard for one of these. Would make a great high end product for personal use. It really is a shame that we are systematically and voluntarily limiting our fruit and vegetable options, purely for monetary reasons. The effects of which is widespread. It has become an obvious fact that the lack of bio-diversity (creating monoculture) is of greater danger to honey bees than pesticides.

    1. Remember, grafting is a method to clone the parent tree. Grafting practices are a major reason some fruits are so genetically homogenous.

    2. Home Depot around here had multi grafted apple, cherry or pear treas(not a mix, just multiple varieties of either one) for sale at about $40 this spring. We bought one of each and they took hold quite well in the spring. This is not really an impossible thing. And space wise, they are on a smaller rootstock, so should take a while to get really large, we are looking at about 10 sqft right now for space. If you have a lawn, this might still fit.

  2. Hope we dont get a bunch of ‘not a hack’ and other nonsense. HAD needs to post more non electronic, non mechanic hacks. It takes a whole lot of research, trial and error, and creative problem solving to keep plants alive.. more so when you start hacking and moding them.

    1. This is also a hack of how to grow 40 of different types of fruit in the space of 1.
      It is much better than your usual repacking a product (aka case modding), LED, how to connect a wire to a chip/arduino, how to grow pot, scamvertising post etc

    1. You could try getting a small paintbrush and tickling the flowers with it next spring to make sure it gets pollinated.

    1. must… resiss.tt…… not turning this into a GMO debate…….
      but seriously though i hope this was an attempt at a bad joke if not shame on you this has absolutely NOTHING to do With GMO’s go and look up grafting on google or wiki or whatever….
      i think this project is awesome was thinking of doing something similar myself a few years back unfortunately i had to move to the city where i don’t have the luxury of a garden. would be cool to have a bonsai version as an ornamental plant

    2. You’re right, this isn’t natural! We must burn it to the ground NOOOW! We must go back to the dark ages as fast as possible, think of the children! What if life happens to them!?

      sigh.

  3. I bought an apple tree from a nursery that was supposed to be three varieties, yellow delicious, gala and fuji. What wasn’t imediately obvious when I bought it is that the different varieties have different heartiness. If you just let it grow then the branches of one variety will use up all the trees nutrients while the others will barely grow if at all!

    I kept cutting back the Yellow Delicious growth for the last few years trying to coax the Gala branch into growing. It has barely made any progress. Meanwhile the Yellow Delicious branches out wherever I cut it making the tree look strangely top heavy. I have given up on the Fuji branch as it is little more than a twig. Only the Yellow Delicious part has ever born fruit.

    This year I decided to give up and just let it grow. That has me a bit sad as my favorite is Gala, not Yellow Delicious. Oh well, the few apples I have already had did taste pretty good, better than what I get in the store. I have to let it grow now because I want the tree to get big enough for a real harvest in my own lifetime!

    I can’t imagine how someone managed 40 varieties. I am very impressed. I hope people reading this realize that it is an amazing acomplishment and not just somebody cutting and taping a few branches together!

    1. I haven’t had much luck with multiple varieties either. Either one thrives more than the others like your’s. Or because of the lengthened blooming/fruting period between the different varietes it ends up fatiguing the rootstock.

      Caring for and creating such plants really is both an art and a science.

  4. a friend of mine is REALLY into grafting, he had a rose bush that had 20 different types and colours of flower.

    1. There is a limit on what you can do with grafting. I doubt this guy in TFA will succeed because it is difficult to graft trees of different genus.

  5. This is fantastic, and the definition (or at least one of several) of what a hack is! Thanks HAD for posting this!!!

  6. Trees often reject grafts over several years… much like the anecdote above about a Golden Delicious graft. With 40 to keep in balance, I’m really impressed.

  7. Cool! F*ck I hate TED though – non-expert jackasses preaching to idiots that refuse to use Wikipedia (in general, not this case specifically).

    1. Fox News sells ads around people’s desire to confirm their political opinions.
      Discovery sells ads around people’s desire to quit their job and mine gold in Alaska.
      Epic Meal Time sells ads around people’s desire to glut on greasy food.
      TED sells ads around people’s desire to be smart or pretentious.

      None actually deliver what the viewers want, but all give a temporary false sense of it. For most people this is as close as they will ever get.

      Losing viewers due to fulfilled desires is bad for business.

      1. Yeah, TED is the junk food of intellectualism. It has no substance, but tastes good, and you later regret consuming it.

  8. Totally Awesome! I’ve got two peach trees and they are doing well, I want three of these! Were do I buy some?

  9. I am glade this article has a real pic – the badly photo-shopped left concept is inferred to be real on most other articles.

  10. An extraordinarily beautiful piece of cleverness which is also edible – three things that don’t normally go together. I think J R R Tolkein would have loved this. There is a surviving drawing he did of a tree with every flower a different kind.

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