An art professor from Syracuse University named Sam Van Aken has successfully grown a tree bearing 40 different kinds of fruit using a technique called grafting. Van Aken's one-of-a-kind hobby was featured in a 4-minute video presentation by National Geographic.
The "chip grafting" method which Van Aken uses involves slicing open a segment of a branch of the tree and tucking in a bud of a fruit. The sliced area is then secured and taped until it matures and reaches the stage where it can grow separate fruit by itself. As per estimates, the trees he is creating would be able to bear about 40 types of stone fruits such as cherries, plums, almonds and nectarines, after a year. The blossoming of the fruit may take place all at the same time.
"I take a sliver off one of the trees that includes the bud, I insert it into a like-size incision in the working tree, tape it, let it sit and heal in all winter, then I prune it back and hope that it grows," Van Aken explains.
In 2008, Van Aken passed by an orchard that was about to be declared as bankrupt. He bought the property and soon began his splicing experiment. For Van Aken, the tree has always been an art project and unlike the other art pieces he had made in the past, these trees imperceptibly grow. He said he is particularly interested in the tree as the concept of a hoax that turns into something that can truly be perceived.
Aside from the chance encounter with the orchard, Van Aken's inspiration dates way back. Seeing how the process of grafting was performed as he was growing up was always fascinating, he told Huffington Post. He was intrigued by the possibility of cutting a living thing and inserting it to grow into another living thing that also can continuously grow. This idea grew further and soon, Van Aken was able to link grafting to the metaphor for modern man, like Frankenstein, and for sexuality such as in Ovid's transformation. He regards the tree as the beginning of a narrative, an inspirational tool for one to create a narrative.
As the number of different fruit growing on the tree can become overwhelming, and he views them as work of arts, Van Aken has developed a system which helps him track the grafts and enhances the artistic design. He developed an illustration of the tree to monitor the patterns of growth of each section of the tree. Growing a tree before finally grafting off to those branches takes about three years, he explains. In total, the process may take up to 8-9 years. This is because every year, the branches grow twice as much as the previous year with grafting. The project, which is dubbed as the "Tree of 40 Fruit," has so far created 16 trees across the U.S.
One of the aims of the project is to plant the hybrid trees in areas where people will pass by them, said Van Aken, and his trees are outside museums and in other public areas. Through this, he hopes people who stumble upon it would begin to wonder how one tree possesses differently shaped leaves and a variety of colors. "It is an art work," he says.
Photo: National Geographic | YouTube