In an ongoing series on hybridizing fruit trees, Syracuse University sculptor Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit is true to its name. Most of the year, it looks pretty ordinary, but in the spring, the tree blossoms display various tones of pink, crimson, and white. Then, from July through October, it bears 40 different types of stone fruit, including almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums.
The feat is accomplished by grafting together several different varieties, including native fruit, heirlooms, and antiques, some of which are centuries-old, Aken tells Epicurious.
His main source is an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which he leased when he heard the orchard was to be torn down. After developing a timeline of when each of the 250 varieties blossom in relation to each other, he would graft a few onto the root structure of a single tree. When his “working tree” was about two years old, he would add more varieties onto the tree as separate branches — a technique called “chip grafting,” Science Alert explains. A sliver that includes a bud is inserted into an incision in the working tree and then taped in place. After it heals over the winter, the branch becomes just another normal branch on the tree, to be pruned as usual.
So far, 16 of these Trees of 40 Fruit have been grown, each taking about five years. He picked stone fruits because they’ve got a lot of diversity and they’re inter-compatible. And a bit of garlic and peppermint repellents keep deer away.
“By grafting these different varieties onto the tree in a certain order I can essentially sculpt how the tree is to blossom,” he says. “I’ve been told by people that have [a tree] at their home that it provides the perfect amount and perfect variety of fruit.”