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August 17, 2006

Newton's Apple, Redux

As I was downloading David Karp's mangosteen photos, it dawned on me that I'd never posted the photos of East Malling's 'Flower of Kent' apple tree that one kind reader from the U.K. sent to me. This tree is cool for two reasons: not only is it a clone of the tree from which Newton's legendary apple fell (if it fell at all), but it is also the source of the budwood which generated almost all other trees said to be propagated from Newton's apple tree (I think it accounts for all of them in North America, but I could be wrong.)

Flower of Kent, East Malling


Flower of Kent, East Malling

It looks kind of lonely there, as though it wandered into the lot and never found its way out. Actually it looks like one of the orphan trees I sometimes see in breeding programs, left standing alone in the middle of a field long after all its siblings fell prey to a breeder's deadly judgement.

Budwood was taken from the original tree at Newton's Woolsthorpe Manor before its demise in 1814, and grafted to trees belonging to Lord Brownlow of Belton. From there, wood was sent to the research station in East Malling. Kew Gardens also has a 'Flower of Kent', propagated from a different tree at Woolsthorpe in 1943, and some believe there are two distinct strains of the cultivar, one from the Kew source, and one from the East Malling source. Tradition maintains that it was the actual apple tree from the story that was the source of the Brownlow and East Malling trees, but no one really knows at this stage, I suspect. Heck, there's really no clear evidence whether the whole apple store is true.

Seeds from 'Flower of Kent' flew on one of the Apollo missions (hidden in a pen, if I recall, but there were a number of tree seeds that visited the moon on Apollo 14, so they may have been among that group), and three of the seedlings grew for years at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. (Anybody know what became of these?)

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