ARUN RATH, HOST:
It sound like something out of Dr. Seuss, but soon there will be a real tree that will bloom in pink, fuchsia and red in the spring and will then bear 40 different kinds of fruit. Artist and Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken is working on creating the Franken-tree. He joins me from the studios of WAER in Syracuse. Welcome.
SAM VAN AKEN: Thank you for having me.
RATH: And we should say right at the top - 'cause I the used the phrase Franken-tree - this is not genetic modification, not genetic engineering. It's a very old technique, grafting.
VAN AKEN: I think the oldest documentation of it is probably about 2,000 years old.
VAN AKEN: It appears on hieroglyphs in Egypt. All fruit trees - essentially all fruit trees - are grafted. So even a lot of nurseries, now - what they'll do is they'll sell combination trees, which are two varieties that will cross pollinate each other. And so you get a better fruit set.
RATH: Now, you were not satisfied with that.
VAN AKEN: (Laughing).
RATH: So tell us how close we are to seeing 40 different kinds of fruit on a single tree.
VAN AKEN: Well, it definitely - I'm an artist. And so the whole project really began with this idea of creating a tree that would blossom in these different colors and would bear these multitude of fruit. As this project developed, I was introduced to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. There I found this orchard. It was like three acres of apricots and plums. They were going to tear it out. And it was the largest orchard of its kind sort of in the Northeast, perhaps even east of the Rockies. And they all had these amazingly different tastes. Then I started to understand the history of these fruit. Then it really became about preserving some of these antique and heirloom varieties.
RATH: And can you run down the different types of fruit varieties that you think we'll get - be able to get from this one tree?
VAN AKEN: Yeah, it's peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and I'm working with cherries. I've had limited success with that. And then, I also graphed almonds to them because the almond blossoms are just absolutely amazing.
RATH: And how many - at this point, how many have you been able to cultivate on a single tree so far?
VAN AKEN: I've had 40 successful graphs. So there - the tree of 40 - you know, it has 40 varieties. And then I've had a bud set of 30. And so a set is when the flowers are pollinated, and they start to grow. But due to my squirrel, chipmunk, groundhog problem, it gets very "Caddyshack." (Laughing) I'm a lot like Bill Murray during the summer.
RATH: (Laughing) Trying to blow up gophers, you mean?
VAN AKEN: Yeah.
VAN AKEN: So it involves trying to find these strategies.
RATH: Artist Sam Van Aken is the creator of the Tree Of 40 Fruit. He joined us from the studios of the WAER in Syracuse. Sam, fun speaking with you. Thanks very much.
VAN AKEN: Oh, excellent speaking with you.
RATH: This is NPR News.