Sam Van Aken, art professor from Syracuse University, always wanted to combine the aesthetic of sculpture with the agricultural wonder of planting trees. Or as he puts it, he wished to transubstantiate a thing where the appearance of a thing remains the same while the reality changes.
In 2008, Van Aken bought an orchid in the New York State Agricultural Station — with varieties of stone fruit about 150 to 200 years old — which was about to close due to lack of money.
So what he came up with is a unique tree called the Tree of 40 Fruit that bears 40 varieties of stone fruit and blossoms in different tones of pink, white, red and purple.
Using a unique process called “sculpture through grafting,” Van Aken grew the hybridised fruit tree from the combination of his early career focused on art and his childhood days in a family farm in Reading, Pennsylvania.
As Van Aken mentions on his website, “Each unique Tree of 40 Fruit grows over forty different types of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds. Sculpted through the process of grafting, the Tree of 40 Fruit blossom in variegated tones of pink, crimson and white in spring, and in summer bear a multitude of fruit.”
It takes about five years to develop each unique Tree of 40 Fruit.
“At first, Van Aken combines a few types onto the root structure of a single tree, allowing his “working tree” to mature to at least two years old. Then he proceeds to add more varieties to the limbs in a sequence called “chip grafting.” Van Aken inserts a budding branch into an incision in the working tree — with a piece of tape, no less — and allows the limb to function as a normal appendage of the plant,” HuffPost said in a report.
Van Aken has so far placed 16 trees in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the country, including in Newton, Massachusetts; Pound Ridge, New York; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bentonville, Arkansas; and San Jose, California.
“I was able to see the grafting process while growing up on a farm and have always been fascinated by how one living thing cut could be cut inserted into another living thing and continue to grow,” Van Aken told HuffPost.
“As this fascination evolved I came to see grafting used as a metaphor for sexuality such as in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and the modern man such as Frankenstein. Like the forms in these books I wanted the tree to be the beginning of a narrative. A form that when seen causes one to create narrative,” he added.