Tree of 40 Fruits

Sam Van Aken
Sam Van Aken

An abomination! A sin against nature! The Devil’s garden!

These are things you might say of the “Tree of 40 Fruits” if you were insane, which I try not to be most of time. But artist Sam Van Aken clearly had vague Biblical allusions in mind when he named his project, right?

Right, the project: It’s a cool mashup of art and horticulture. Van Aken used a technique called “chip grafting” to construct an Ur Tree that produces 40 varieties of stone fruit.

A “stone fruit” is not, as you might have guessed, a cherry-flavored igneous. Instead, it is a type of fruit with a stone inside — think peaches and cherries. Van Aken’s Frankenfruit Tree offers up nectarines, cherries, plums, almonds and etc., all grafted from an heirloom-rich orchard in New York. In spring, the tree transforms into a surreal technicolor cloud of different blossoms, which in turn birth the different kinds of fruit. Check out the picture. It’s downright Seussian.

But, right: “Tree of 40 Fruits.” That’s something that could come right out of King James. Trees and fruits, obviously, are go-to images and metaphors for the authors of the Biblical stories. And 40: From years in the desert to days-and-nights of temptations, it’s pretty Biblical. I’m guessing Van Aken sees the tree, which is saving the fruits of a bunch of heirloom trees from destruction (the orchard was set for the bulldozer), as a sort of horticultural Ark? Or a trial of survival in a trying ecological age?

Or maybe the 41st stone fruit really sucked. But I think there was something, at least subconsciously, about 40 and trees and fruit. For an artist, and for all of us, living today, encroaching ecological destruction should seem Biblical, if not larger, in magnitude.


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