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Syracuse University professor creates hybrid tree that produces 40 types of fruit

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Most of us don’t even have one fruit tree in our yards, let alone a tree that produces 40 different kinds.

Artist and Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken created just that — a hybrid tree that contains 40 types of stone fruits, or fruits with pits, he planted in more than a dozen sites, according to a National Geographic video.

Van Aken created the “Tree of 40 Fruit” using a “chip grafting” process, which involves slicing a bit of a tree branch with a bud of and inserting it into a slit of a branch of a “working tree.” The visual and performing arts professor then wraps the branch’s “wound” with tape until it heals and the bud starts to grow a new branch. Van Aken then adds slices of branches from other varieties to the working tree over several years.

In the spring, the tree blossoms in hues of pinks and purples and begins to bear the fruits in sequence in the summer. It takes about eight to nine years for the process to complete.

“The project is for me, always an art project,” Van Aken says in the video. “I was really interested in the idea of a hoax in terms of a hoax transforms reality.”

In addition to a work of art, it’s also a timeline of the varieties’ blossoming and fruiting, Van Aken said. He sees the fruit trees as a way to spread diversity on a small scale.

“Unlike previous artworks that I have made, these things continuously evolve,” he said.

Van Aken uses a diagram of the tree to track the growing patterns of the different sections and keep things organized. One of the incredible trees sits in front of Hinds Hall on the Syracuse University campus.