The Fruit Salad Tree

Oct 2, 2012 6:00am

 

ht stone fruit tree nt 121001 wblog The Fruit Salad Tree

Image: The Fruit Salad Tree Company, Australia.

Orange trees with lemons, limes and grapefruit on them.  Peach trees with plums, apricots and nectarines as well.  If you like fruit and your backyard is small, you can have one.

This is not a joke.  James and Kerry West, farmers in New South Wales, Australia, say they came up with the idea in 1990, when wool prices were low and they needed another way to bring in income.  American farmers have been selling their own versions for years, shipping them when they’re small.

James West said it began for him as an experiment.  He tried cutting branches off one type of tree and tying or taping them to exposed spots on the branches of other species.

“He started putting the different fruits, but of the same family, and seeing what would happen if you grafted them all onto the one tree,” Kerry says in a 2010 YouTube video. “We were amazed at the results.”

They called them “fruit salad trees,” and they now ship them, potted or for planting, all over Australia. As long as the combinations weren’t too exotic — you can’t compare apples and oranges, much less grow them on the same tree — James found that the branches slowly fused together, so that he wound up with a healthy tree with different types of fruit on it.

“Business is growing every year, mostly by word of mouth,” Kerry said in an email to ABC News. “We advertise in national gardening magazines and attend major garden shows in Australia.”

Grafting of tree branches is not unusual to farmers, and American nurseries have been selling their own versions of fruit salad trees.   At Yamagami’s Nursery in Cupertino, Calif. (it’s pure accident that Apple Inc. is across town), you can buy a 3-year-old multi-graft tree for $100.

“It’s very appropriate for an urban or suburban setting because people simply don’t have space,” said Carolyn Villa-Scott at Yamagami’s.  “It’s a lot easier than planting several trees.  A mature fruit tree has bushels and bushels of fruit.”

Is it a big business?  Tom Spellman of the Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, Calif.  said they’ve been selling “multi-variety” trees for about 30 years, and it’s about 5 percent of their income.  But people who like ‘em, he said, love ‘em.

“People are enthused,” he said, especially because not all the fruit fills your yard at the same time.

And it’s a conversation piece for visitors: Imagine what you can say when they ask, “What is that thing?”

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