Will Bonsai Trees Bear Fruit?

Sam Van Aken, an artist and professor at Syracuse University, uses “chip grafting” to create trees that each bear 40 different varieties of stone fruits, or fruits with pits. The grafting process involves slicing a bit of a branch with a bud from a tree of one of the varieties and inserting it into a slit in a branch on the “working tree,” then wrapping the wound with tape until it heals and the bud starts to grow into a new branch. Over several years he adds slices of branches from other varieties to the working tree. In the spring the “Tree of 40 Fruit” has blossoms in many hues of pink and purple, and in the summer it begins to bear the fruits in sequence—Van Aken says it’s both a work of art and a time line of the varieties’ blossoming and fruiting. He’s created more than a dozen of the trees that have been planted at sites such as museums around the U.S., which he sees as a way to spread diversity on a small scale.

Bonsai Tree Grows Fruit

The tree or 40 fruit is a single fruit tree that grows over 40 different types of stone fruit including peaches plums apricots nectarines cherries and almonds the idea came from just sort of a fascination with the process of grafting [Music] when I had seen it done as a child it was dr. Seuss and Frankenstein and just about everything fantastic I started traveling around Central New York in New York State to look for different varieties of stone fruit eventually I was able to find these different heirloom and antique varieties but they are very rare so it would bring them back here to my nursery graph them onto a tree so that I could continue to use them now I have a huge collection of plums and apricots [Music] through the project I’ve I’ve worked with a lot of growers and at first they didn’t understand it because they were why would you want to have a tree with that many different fruit on it you would have to go back over and over to continue to harvest all the fruit the project is for me always an art project I was really interested in the idea of a hoax in terms of you know hoax transforms reality part of the idea for the tree of 40 fruit was to plant them in locations that people would sort of stumble upon once they happen upon one of these trees they would start to question why are the leaves shaped differently why are they different colors and then in summer when you would see all of these different fruit growing on them and of course in spring when they blossom in different colors it is an artwork when I first started I just sort of crafted the branches on so each variety blossoms at a slightly different time and I had a tree that blossomed all on one side but looked dead on the other from that point I created a timeline of when all of these different varieties blossom in relationship to each other so I could essentially sculpt how the tree would blossom for each of the trees I keep a map essentially or a diagram of the tree yeah it takes a really long time I start a tree and I let it grow for about three years and at that point I can come in and start to graft on to those branches those four branches become eight the next year eight becomes 16 16 becomes 32 it’s essentially like an eight to nine year process essentially what you’re doing with this clear plastic is you’re creating a greenhouse around the graft and so what it’ll do is all that humidity helps the graft heal in the first tree it’s planted in 2011 and it has the 40 varieties but I anticipate it will be about 3 or 4 years before it’s at that peak and then peat blossom [Music] unlike any other artworks that I’ve made these things continuously evolved I think one of the reasons why I’ve been able to keep it going for so long is that every year it’s something new and when you come out here and the trees are all in blossom it’s really kind of an amazing experience plus you get fruit all summer

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