History

Why This May Be the Most Important Tree in History

At first glance, it appears to be an ordinary tree. Appearances can be deceiving, however. There is much about this tree that is far from ordinary.

For one thing, it is an exceedingly rare type of apple tree. The Flower of Kent apples are green with a red flush. Once quite popular, it is all but absent from commercial cultivation. Only a handful of the trees remain, making this one rather special.

The Flower of Kent Tree at Woolsthorpe Manor

Even more special is that most of the Flower of Kent trees that remain are said to descend from this particular one. It is no small wonder, therefore, that its caretakers watch over it carefully.

Located at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, the tree is also remarkable for its age. It is at least 400 years old. It is the embodiment of what it means to be a survivor. In 1816, it was blown down by a severe windstorm. Most of the branches were removed, but the major portion of the tree was re-planted. Despite the odds, the tree took root and has flourished in the two centuries since that storm.

“the notion of gravitation… was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood.”

— William Stukeley

As if all of this weren’t enough, the specimen is possibly one of the most influential trees of all time. Shortly after it was planted, a boy was born at the estate. He grew up with that tree always as a part of his life. When he was 24 years old, he was sitting in the garden, contemplating the tree, and a curious thought came to him. He wondered, “Why do apples always fall straight down to the ground?” He concluded there must be some kind of power that pulls them to the ground. If that is the case, he wondered, how far would that power extend? Could it go as far as the moon?

Later, an apocryphal story would circulate that these thoughts occurred to the young man when an apple fell from the tree and hit him on the head. Although that never happened, the young man, whose name was Isaac Newton, told his acquaintances that it was while pondering the tree and its fruit that his theory of gravitation came to him. His assistant and biographer, John Conduitt, wrote in 1726 that Newton “first thought of his system of gravitation which he hit upon by observing an apple fall from a tree.”

Although Newton did not specify which tree he was looking at, it turns out that there was only one apple tree growing in the garden. The process of elimination revealed the identity of this tree that changed history.

Isaac Newton’s tree is now a national treasure and is in the custody of the National Trust. More information about the tree and the mission of the National Trust can be found on its website.

As we have said, looks can be deceiving. What appears to be nothing more than an old tree is possibly the most important tree in history. Remember that as you look at the trees you encounter today. Who knows? One of them may unlock the secrets of the universe for the next generation of Isaac Newtons.


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