September 12, 2018

Gravity apple cutting falls down under

Many know the story of how a falling apple inspired Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.  Far fewer know that a cutting from that apple tree ended up in Lower Hutt.

There are now nine apple trees growing on Callaghan innovation’s campus in Gracefield which have a link going back to the 1600s.

And more cuttings are to be planted in the community as part of a heritage fruit tree programme.

In the autumn of 1665 the University of Cambridge, where newton had been studying, was closed because of the spread of the great plague.

Newton went back to his home in Woolsthrope, Lincolnshire.

Many years later, Dr Williams Stukeley, a friend of newton’s wrote how the pioneering English physicist and mathematician recalled his initial thoughts on what would become known as gravity were inspired by an apple falling from a tree: ‘Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the Earth’s centre?  Assuredly, the reason is that the Earth draws it.  There must be a drawing power in matter.”

More than three centuries later, a letter written in 1976 by Dr. Mervyn Probine, then Director of the DSIR’s physical and Engineering Laboratory in Lower Hutt, was discovered in a drawer at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences 9now GNS Science).

The letter said the ‘Newton tree’ was a ‘Flower of Kent’ variety, which died in 1814.

‘Before it died, however, grafts were taken from the tree and the resulting progeny was planted in Lord Brownlow’s kitchen garden at Belton.

“From this tree at Belton, trees at East Melling Research Station were propagated in 1940 from grafts.”

Probine said it was not the only existing strain; graft-wood was taken to Kew Gardens directly from at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1943.

He was unable to determine the apple tree grown at Gracefield from a cutting was descended from the Kew or the East Melling strain.

“All that is known is that the tree we have here was obtained by the good offices of Sir Ernest Marsden and that it is a direct descendant of the tree which was growing in Sir Isaac Newton’s garden at Woolsthrope.”

The Lower Hutt tree was planted by a Mr. J.B.C. Taylor on Arbor Day 1957.