Did you know there’s a tree out there that spawns 40 different types of fruit? With leaves in variegated hues of white, red, pink and purple, it sounds magical, right?
But this is no fairytale fruit tree—it’s the real thing. A Syracuse Professor and artist named Sam Van Aken has spent the last seven years cultivating what he calls “The Tree of 40 Fruit,” which is abundant with stone fruits like peaches, cherries, apricots, nectarines, plums, and even almonds. How? By joining slivers of various trees together, the professor created a beautiful kind of super-tree.
The technique is called grafting, and Van Aken’s process involves growing individual trees, slicing a sliver of a tree branch with a bud attached and joining it with a branch of a host tree. Over winter, the incision “heals” and fuses with the original tree. Come summer, the tree can produce several varieties of fruits that all blossom and ripen at different times—and they’re all heirloom, some varieties existing for centuries.
Before you freak out over the idea of a “Frankentree” and liken it to the “frankenfoods” known as GMO crops, don’t worry—grafting is an old horticulture technique and does not alter the genes of the plants whatsoever. Instead, grafting simply joins them together. It’s a form of hybridization, which can occur naturally through cross pollination. Genetic modification, on the other hand, involves scientists actually splicing genes and transferring them from one organism to another, usually through virus transmission.
The Tree of 40 Fruit is actually a pretty marvelous anomaly. Not to mention, it boasts an array of fruit that would enliven the nutritional options for anyone lucky enough to stumble upon this whimsical tree. It may happen sooner than you think—while most of Van Aken’s trees are displayed at museums, he plans to plant them around New York City, reintroducing native fruits that have long been absent from the region.
Photo credit: Sam Van Aken
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