A New York sculptor has created an incredible tree that can produce 40 different varieties of stone fruit at once.
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The artist, Sam Van Aken, is an art professor at Syracuse University. However, he did grow up on a farm in Pennsylvania where he learned grafting—a practice that is very common but very magical for him.
Speaking on TedX, he shared, “When I’d seen it done as a child, it was Dr. Seuss and Frankenstein and just about everything fantastic.”
Van Aken has been growing trees with multiple kinds of fruit since 2008 with the help of a technique called chip grafting. To do this, he starts with a slice of a fruit tree that includes the buds and inserts it into a matching incision in a host tree, which is at least three years old. Electrical tape is then used to hold the pieces together, and soon, the “veins” of different trees flow into each other.
There are times when Van Aken only works with buds by removing healthy ones and freexing them for a few months. Then he trims the buds off the host tree and replaces them with the ones that are frozen. The new buds are wrapped in plastic to create a greenhouse effect, effectively tricking the host tree into believing that the new pieces are still part of itself.
His process has been considered as artwork, with the trees as his sculptures, because he always manages to take control of how the tree can morph by choosing what to graft and where to do so. However, it took him a lot of trials to finally perfect the process.
“When I first started, I sort of grafted the branches on. So each variety blossoms at a slightly different time,” he shared. “I had a tree that blossomed all on one side but looked dead on the other. From that point on, I created a timeline of when all these varieties blossom in relationship to each other. So I could essentially sculpt how the tree would blossom.”