UW Today

March 30, 2011

Isaac Newton would be proud: One of ‘his apple trees now on campus

No one was hit on the head with an apple, but a descendant of the tree that legend says inspired Sir Isaac Newtons Theory of Universal Gravitation was planted in front of the Chemistry Building March 30, courtesy of the Class of 2007.

Members of the Class of 2007 help plant a descendant of the tree that legend says inspired Sir Isaac Newtons Theory of Universal Gravitation.

Members of the Class of 2007 help plant a descendant of the tree that legend says inspired Sir Isaac Newtons Theory of Universal Gravitation.Mary Levin

The tree was the idea of a UW student who was a member of the 2007 Senior Class Gift Council. She  learned in one of her science classes about the worldwide tradition of planting Newton apple trees on college campuses and thought it would be fantastic idea for her class senior gift — representing the academic values of her class and the University.  (We all know the apocryphal  tale of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree and an apple falling near him — or, more popularly, on his head—prompting him to ponder what makes things fall, leading to the development of his theory of gravitation.)

The Class of 2007 raised money throughout the spring of their senior year to make the dream a reality, eventually coming up with $28,000.  “The tree didnt cost that much,” said Katie Harkins, the representative of Annual Giving who worked with the students, “but weve established a fund to care for the tree in perpetuity.”

The scionwood, which is required to graft a genetic replica, was obtained from the Germplasm Repository at Cornell University.  The variety is called “Flower of Kent,” and is probably named for the area of England called Kent. Sam Benowitz of Raintree Nursery in Morton, WA grafted the scionwood onto a rootstock, and cared for the tree as it grew to an acceptable level of maturity to be planted on campus. At the planting, a recording was played of Clive Simms, a British grafting expert, explaining how grafting is done.

Benowitz, who met Simms and was able to see the site of the original tree in England, was among those who spoke at the tree planting. He said that the climate in Seattle should suit the tree, since it is similar to that of England. He said the tree will grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall in two to three years, and that he is growing back-up trees in case anything should happen to this one.

“Apple trees need to be near other apple trees to be pollinated,” he said, noting that this affected the choice of location–which was made by University Landscape Architect Kristine Kenney.

Also on hand for the planting were Sarah Couch and Lida Turner, Class of 2007 Senior Class Gift Council co-chairs. Couch is now assistant director of Annual Giving and Turner will graduate from the UW School of Medicine this spring.

UW mascot Dubs put in an appearance too, and of course, apple cider (and cookies) were served for refreshments.

When you visit the new tree, you can see information about it on a stanchion that is located just off the path in front of it.