The Tree of Forty Fruits – a “ToFF”


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As a lover of gardening, IAI’s first business combined entrepreneurship and landscaping (dba PMS Management – The Royal College of Obstetricians offers some advice!). Landscaping was more fun than weeding, but the real fun is in using rootone to propagate azaleas and for more challenging tasks like horticultural grafting (a HG history here).

An artist names Sam van Aken at gained attention a couple of years back for creating a “Tree of Forty Fruits” (or ToFFs) and gave a TED talk to explain his inspiration and his process and dedication to heirloom tree preservation:

The tree of forty fruits | Sam Van Aken | TEDxManhattan – YouTube- The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of hybridized fruit trees by contemporary artist Sam Van Aken. Each unique Tree of 40 Fruit grows over forty different types of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds. Sculpted through the process of grafting, the Tree of 40 Fruit blossom in variegated tones of pink, crimson and white in spring, and in summer bear a multitude of fruit. Primarily composed of native and antique varieties the Tree of 40 Fruit are a form of conservsation, preserving heirloom stone fruit varieties that are not commercially produced or available.

The story is inspiring and, there were enough copycats that these ToFFs are now much more affordable than when Sam got publicity from CNN, CNET, Business Insider, Epicurious, among others. Van Aken explained, “My primary source for most of these varieties was the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. When I began the project there was an orchard at the Experiment Station with hundreds of different plum and apricot varieties. They planned to tear this orchard out, so I picked up the lease until I could graft all of these varieties onto the trees in my nursery.” To date, Van Aken has created and placed over 50 trees in museums, community centers, and private art collections around the country, including in Newton, Massachusetts; Pound Ridge, New York; Short Hills, New Jersey; Bentonville, Arkansas; and San Jose, California. His unique process of “sculpture through grafting” yields  trees that grow and support more than 40 varieties of stone fruit, including many heirloom, antique, and native varieties.
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But, aspiring innovators  (Hat tip to George E.L. Barbee and his book 63 Innovation Nuggets) , you won’t believe what actually inspired the ToFF project:
At the time this project began I was doing a series of radio hoaxes where I hijacked commercial radio station frequencies and played my own commercials and songs. In addition to becoming acquainted with FCC regulations I also discovered that the term “hoax” comes from “hocus pocus,” which in turn comes from the Latin “hoc est enim corpus miem,” meaning “this is my body” and it’s what the Catholic priest says over the bread during [the] Eucharist, transforming it into the body of Christ. This process is known as transubstantiation and [it] led me to wonder how I could transubstantiate a thing. How could the appearance of a thing remain the same while the reality changed? And so, I transubstantiated a fruit tree.
Syracuse professor Van Aken says that his work has always been “inspired by nature and our relationship to nature. First and foremost I see the tree as an artwork. Like the hoaxes I was doing, I want the tree to interrupt and transform the everyday.” – hear, hear !
In tribute to the rapidly arriving fall in New England, I am offering “Tall Ambrosia” via The Poetry Foundation from Henry David Thoreau – one of our favorite American poets.

Tall Ambrosia

Among the signs of autumn I perceive
The Roman wormwood (called by learned men
Ambrosia elatior, food for gods,—
For to impartial science the humblest weed
Is as immortal once as the proudest flower—)
Sprinkles its yellow dust over my shoes
As I cross the now neglected garden.
—We trample under foot the food of gods
And spill their nectar in each drop of dew—
My honest shoes, fast friends that never stray
Far from my couch, thus powdered, countryfied,
Bearing many a mile the marks of their adventure,
At the post-house disgrace the Gallic gloss
Of those well dressed ones who no morning dew
Nor Roman wormwood ever have been through,
Who never walk but are transported rather—
For what old crime of theirs I do not gather.

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