Fruit Salad Tree

It’s long been said that when dealing with two different things, comparing them is like “apples and oranges.” While it’s true that both apples and oranges are fruits, they’re very different types. Oranges are citrus while apples are, well, aren’t. Oranges are orange but apples are red or green or yellow. You can’t eat an orange peel (well, you can, but they’re gross) but apple peels are good for you. Oranges make for bad “orangesauce” or cider while apples aren’t going to do anything to prevent scurvy. You really can’t compare the two. Heck, they grow on different trees!

But what about oranges and lemons? Or McIntoshes and Galas? Not only are they easier to compare, but despite being different cultivars (in the case of the apples) or different fruits all together, here’s something neat: you can grow those pairs on the same tree as their tandem-mate. Fruit salad trees, so to speak.

When orchard growers have a fruit that they want to grow more of, they can’t simply plant the seeds from that fruit. The seeds contain genetic information from the two “parents” from which it came, and therefore, aren’t going to produce the same type of characteristics. (Occasionally, we’ll develop a new cultivar of fruit this way. The Granny Smith apple, for example, is believed to be the hybrid of two other types of applesas is the McIntosh.) To get the right type of fruit, growers graft parts of that fruit’s tree onto rootstock — a tree with a healthy root system. The grafted-on piece, called a scion, will, over time, join together with the rootstock, forming a viable, fruit-producing part of the tree. Because the genetic information in the scion is left undisturbed, the resulting fruit has a high likelihood of tasting similar to that of the tree the scion originally came from.

Because the scion and resulting fruit do not change the genetic makeup of the rootstock, it’s possible to graft two (or more) different fruits on the same tree, so long as they’re from the same family of fruit. In 1990, an Australian company set up the Fruit Salad Tree Company to provide exactly that — trees which grow multiple fruits. For example, in the video below, there are both oranges and lemons growing from the same trunk.



The possibilities are not, however, endless. Citrus fruitsstone fruits, and apples must be grafted onto separate trees, and due to different ripening times, some fruits preclude the inclusion of others. That company only ships to Australia and New Zealand, but there are some in the United States which do the same.


Bonus fact: The “apples and oranges” idiom is a type of idiom called an “irreversible binomial,” named as such because there are two parts to it and one rarely finds it in reverse order. (That is, it’s always “apples and oranges” and never “oranges and apples.”) The reasons for this linguistic phenomenon are unclear at best, but it is not all that rare — Wikipedia has an extensive list of examples.

From the ArchivesNavel Oranges: The Mutant Clones in Your Kitchen: An early Now I Know sharing the story about oranges and grafting.

Related: Apparently, you can order a fruit salad tree via Amazon, but who knows what you’ll actually get.