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Artist rendering of the Tree of 40 Fruit / Sam Van Aken courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

A single tree that bears 40 different fruits?

It's not the product of magic, but years of careful grafting by artist Sam Van Aken.

The Tree of 40 Fruit looks like any other tree. But in the spring, it blossoms with varieties of cherry, peach, apricots, plum and other stone fruit.

Fourteen of these trees, each with their own varieties of fruit, are planted across the country.

Started in 2008, the Tree of 40 Fruit is part art project, part commentary on the monoculture of American farms.

Van Aken used a technology called chip grafting.

Growing up on a Pennsylvania farm, Van Aken said there was always a "mysticism" around grafting.

"You see someone do it and you're such a skeptic, but you come back in the spring and it actually grows and becomes a new tree," said Van Aken, an art professor at Syracuse University who now works with about 250 varieties.

"Seeing that as a kid, it's the most magical thing in the world," he said.

How to graft your own Tree of 40 Fruit

1. Start with a stone fruit tree that will serve as the base. Prune it so that it has an open center and four or five branches.

2. From another stone fruit tree, take a sliver that includes the bud.

3. Insert the sliver into a like-sized incision in the base tree.

4. Tape together and let it sit all winter.

5. Repeat until you have 40 varieties. Map the varieties to keep track of what you've grafted.

The idea behind chip grafting is you've "injured the tree and hopefully confused it into thinking what you inserted into it is from itself."

Success is not always guaranteed. "If you're hitting about 80%, that's pretty good," he said.

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