Professor creates tree that produces 40 kinds of fruit

UNDATED -- Ideas don't grow on trees, until now. Syracuse University sports teams are known as "The Orange." But a Syracuse professor created a way to put dozens of fruits, all on one tree.

Sam Van Aken's nursery is a workshop, laboratory, and easel all rolled into one. Here, he's at work on his masterpiece, a single tree that grows 40 types of fruit. This springtime rendering of what the blossoms will look like is getting attention worldwide.

Van Aken, an art professor at Syracuse University, grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. A few years ago, he learned New York's agricultural experiment station, a 125-year-old intuition that preserves and produces fruit, was going to rip up its stone fruit orchards.

So he set out to find a permanent home for seeds that trace back thousands of years. He said, "When I started, it was a matter of essentially collapsing an entire orchard down onto one tree. That was the practical application for it."

Growing multiple stone fruits, like peaches or plums, on one tree is possible because what Van Aken does, perhaps better than anybody, is graft. In essence, tricking a tree into adopting a new limb, or in Van Aken's case, dozens of them.

The tree of forty fruit has been growing for nine years. Fourteen are installed around the country, most in public places, like this one at the center of the Syracuse campus alive and edible, Van Aken says his project has grown beyond expectation. He said, "There's a pastor in Norfolk, Virginia that did a sermon. And a big part of the sermon was using the Tree of 40 Fruit as a symbol. And to me, that was amazing that it reached that far."


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