Artist, and professor at Syracuse University, San Van Aken, has created an extraordinary tree that is capable of producing 40 different fruit varieties.
Sam Van Aken is an award winning sculpture artist, however, in 2008 he turned his sculpting skills to fruit tree varieties. To date, he has created over 21 trees that produce 40 varieties of fruit. Initially interested in exploring the concept of a “hoax,” Van Aken’s project evolved into a research and conservation project.
Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit becomes most magical to passers by during spring and summer. Each branch bursts with a spray of varying shades of pink, white and crimson. People who witness the tree in bloom see a floral fireworks display, which Van Aken has meticulously designed. During summer, the tree becomes abundant in many types of fruit, including peaches, almonds, cherries, plums, and apricots, amongst others.
The concept of a “hoax”
Originally raised on a Pennsylvania farm, Van Aken ultimately turned to art, specifically sculpture, for which he has won many awards. However, his memories of witnessing fruit tree grafting as a child had captured his imagination. So in 2008, he decided to set about creating a tree with multicolored blossoms, as an art project that would appear to the viewer as a hoax.
During a speech last year, Van Aken described how the etymology of the word “hoax” is derived from the Latin “hocus pocus.” This referred to a Catholic concept called transubstantiation, whereby one object turns into an entirely different object. Consequently, Van Aken realized that a tree that produces unexpected fruits would symbolize this idea to his satisfaction.
Fighting corporate monoculture
What Van Aken imagined would be a project lasting 2-3 years, evolved into an ongoing project that he began almost a decade ago in 2008. Van Aken fell down the proverbial rabbit hole in his quest to find different fruit varieties that he could graft onto a single tree. Initially, his quest to find varieties was difficult. Modern corporate monoculture was threatening many rare and unique fruit varieties with extinction.
According to Van Aken, in 1945, 50% of the American population had direct ties to agriculture. Currently, this number has dropped to a horrifying 2%. Sadly, this has enabled monoculture to dominate, which ultimately produces inferior tasting fruit. Corporate priorities are only concerned with how well fruit stores and ships, it’s serving size and how it appears colorwise.
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Preservation, conservation and education
Almost miraculously, the perfect solution to his quest arrived when he found an orchard that contained over 250 heritage varieties of stone fruits. Van Aken was literally in the right place at the right time. Government funding for an orchard called the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station had ceased. The artist was able to lease the orchard before the government set about razing the site.
Van Aken realized at this point that his project was more than just art. And what started as trial and error, has evolved into Van Aken developing an in-depth understanding of pollination, accurate timing of blossoming and fruit growth, and awareness of potential diseases. The artist is conserving information that modern industrial farming methods are inadvertently losing.
Currently, Van Aken’s trees of 40 fruit are scattered throughout the US. The public can see them in museums, community centers, and parks. The artist travels to each tree about twice a year to prune and add grafts. He estimates that the public can witness the full glory of each of his trees during the next few years.