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March 16, 2006

Newton's Apple

The story of the apple, Newton's head, and their chance encounter that yielded the theory of gravity is well known. Some have questioned if it happened just that way, but though he only mentions seeing an apple fall, not having it fall on his head (this appears to have been added by Isaac D'Israeli), the tale appears to originate with Newton himself, told to his friend William Stukley in 1726. This is, of course, roughly sixty years after the event, which occurred when he was a twenty-two year old avoiding plague-ridden London at his family home, Woolsthorpe Manor.

Whether it occurred the way Newton claimed (or at all), we may never know, but Woolsthorpe Manor did (and does) have a number of apple trees. The tree which dropped this particular apple was of cultivar called 'Flower of Kent', a variety of which several remain at Woolsthorpe. The actual tree lived a long life, but is long gone today. By 1814, it was heavily decayed and collapsed, propped up along the ground. In 1820 it was badly damaged by a storm and was taken down. A local teacher sawed the tree into pieces, many of which were kept as souvenirs. One piece was presented to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1914, another appears to have been made into a pair of rulers, award to a member of the Royal Society in 1844.

'Flower of Kent', despite its name, did not likely originate in England, but rather in France. It is a cooking apple, somewhat smallish, and of an unusual pear shape. By all accounts it is mealy, subacid, and rather flavorless.

Today, the cultivar is largely forgotten, although a handful of trees remain, and many can trace their provenance directly to Newton's famous tree. After Newton's death in 1727, the new owners of Woolsthorpe Manor sent budwood to Belton Park, in Lincolnshire, and from there it was passed to the research station at East Malling. In 1944, grafts from the trees at East Malling were planted at the home of William Penn in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, and it is these trees which are the sources of most, if not all, of the 'Flower of Kent' trees in the U.S. (Antique Apple Orchard in Oregon is the only commercial operation I know of with it). The same source in East Malling are the origin of the first 'Flower of Kent' in Canada, recently planted in York University. (Siloam Orchards, who propagated it for the university, appears to have it too.)

(By the way, yes, I'm still alive...just really busy trying to get as much research done as possible before daughter #2 arrives on the scene. And, along with my daughter, enjoying a nice round of strep throat right at the moment. Just saw this and thought I'd post it, though).

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At 3/17/2006 09:38:00 AM, Anonymous lalitree said...

Advance congrats to you & C. on daughter #2!

At 3/24/2006 10:31:00 AM, Anonymous Matthew said...

Good to see a post, and more advance congratulations here!

It never even dawned on me till now, but is the Yellow Newton Pippin related to Flower of Kent? Or just a coincidence that 'Newton' is in the name?

I have a YNP, grafted on to one of several rootstocks I planted a few years ago. No fruit yet. Maybe this year?

At 3/24/2006 10:55:00 AM, Blogger Evil Fruit Lord said...

Thanks to both of you for all the congratulations... I appear to have forgotten to tell all kinds of people I know, because as soon as I posted that a bunch of people e-mailed me that I thought I'd already told (the same thing happened at Christmas time when I was visiting my parents...I just assumed the word was out, but everyone was surprised).

Anyway, no new arrivals yet, but I will keep you all posted.

On to fruit matters: Actually, it is 'Yellow Newtown Pippin', named for Newtown Creek in what is now Queens. So, nope, no connection. I see the 'Newton Pippin' version quite frequently, so I'm guessing some nursery made the mistake years ago and it's been propagated along with the trees.

The original Newtown Pippin tree has the distinction of having essentially been killed by people taking scion wood.

A little more info on it: http://www.twinleaf.org/articles/pippin.html

At 3/26/2006 06:09:00 PM, Anonymous Matthew Shugart said...

Thanks for the correction, which I will now note in my records. I have seen it both ways, now that you mention it.

At 3/26/2006 06:15:00 PM, Anonymous Matthew Shugart said...

By the way, I am even more pleased to know I am growing a variety with ties to Jefferson than I would have been if it had been tied to Newton!

As I explain at F&V (in the "Mission" statement), I am quite fascinated by the fruits that Jefferson and Madison grew, though only Jefferson kept records that survive today.

Thanks so much for the link and for setting me straight on what I am growing!

At 7/17/2006 04:20:00 AM, Blogger twisden said...

I have a "Flower of Kent" on an East Malling rootstock.It's a scion of the tree at Bradbourne House EM.,which in turn is a scion from Cambs.It is currently in a flower pot,waiting to be planted.75%of the world's cultivated apple trees can be traced back to EM(so I am told)If you would like a pic of the mature EM tree I can oblige.cheers.

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At 6/07/2015 09:16:00 AM, Blogger Nye Scuppertea said...

I've got 'Flower of Kent' in my garden. When I decided to make my garden into a miniature apple orchard of old varieties, I had to have this on for its historical importance. I must question your assertion that the original is long gone: it was blown down in a storm in the early 19th century, but re-rooted itself where the branches touched the ground, and still grows in Woolsthorpe Manor: I must go and see it one day, maybe this year.

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