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Franken-trees: Tree Grafting Projects

photo by Glysiak (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You might have seen the "Tree of 40 Fruit" story that has been buzzing on the internet. This fantastic project involving grafting many types of fruit trees together into one tree can be a great launching point for educational field trips to orchards in the late summer or early fall, and tree grafting science projects. Most of the apple trees at our modern orchards are varieties that have been grafted.

So what is grafting anyway? Grafting is a process where growth from one type of tree, called a scion, is fixed to the root stock of another tree. When a tree is grafted, we are, in a sense, taking advantage of the healing properties of the tree. The two "wounded" parts of tree begin to heal and grow together. Grafting is common in orchards because grafting apples or other fruit-bearing trees to dwarf root stocks allows for more trees to be planted on a property and makes harvesting safer as the trees stay smaller.

The "Tree of 40 Fruit" project grafts may varieties of stone fruit together to make a tree that grows 40 different types of fruit. Not only does this tree produce a lot of different fruit, but it is an art project. The blossoms are different colors and so are the fruit. The designer of these trees, Sam Van Aken, is a botanist and artist. He plans the trees very carefully. You can learn more about his process in this video and his TED talk:

Grafting trees or other plants, such as cacti, can be a fun science project. It takes some patience, but leads to a much deeper understanding of plants. To understand how grafting works, you need to understand the plant's vascular system, or how food and water move through the plant. This goes beyond plant anatomy like leaf, stem and root. Grafting is a great introduction to xylem, phloem and the cambium of a tree. An excellent way to teach kids about tree anatomy is through the movement activity "Tree Factory" by Project Learning Tree Another version of this activity can be found here.

For some info on how to graft your own tree or plant, you might check out this page from the Exploratorium or this information from the National Gardening Association. Although this grafting science fair project is for older students, with help from an adult younger kids could definitely participate. Your local orchard or cooperative extension is likely to have information and resources to help get you started!

Once again, learning is delicious!

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