While the population and urbanization of the earth increases, the diversity of wild plants shrinks. A large pool of variation within each species has evolved over many years, all adapted to distinctive growth conditions, which increases the survival chances of the species in case of diseases or future climate changes. However today, the genetic diversity of the species is threatened due to destroyed natural habitats and an increased dependency on a few mass-produced species. This has led to several local, national and international initiatives to conserve the wildlife such as Bioversity International, Global Crop Diversity Trust or The International Rice Genebank. While there are many initiatives to preserve food crops, few exist for fruits and stone fruits in particular.
One local preservation initiative comes from Sam van Aken, an Associate Professor of Art at the Syracuse University in New York. Sam van Aken preserves hundreds of commercially unavailable stone fruit species in a way that combines art and modern technology. Through chip grafting, Sam van Aken sculptures hybridized fruit trees in a project called Tree of 40 Fruit.
Each tree started as a single species fruit tree but was through grafting turned into a unique hybridized tree growing over 40 different types of stone fruit. The trees are not only a conversation and preservation of the stone fruit heritage, but are also art installations and can be found throughout the USA.
In his TEDxManhattan talk, Sam van Aken tells the story behind the Tree of Forty Fruits Project and how it all started.