Marlow and Milton Wonder, 5 years ago.
Tree is quite healthy, with a mass of white blossom, as of writing,
and regularly forming a full crop of apples. The original crown
of the tree has gone, but a new, lower branch structure is well
developed. It was struck by lightning in the 1960s, leaving a scorch
mark down the tree. It now has a significant lean, supported by
a prop, and the trunk is hollow, missing in part and twisted. The
living ring of green, growing and dividing cells just below the
bark that normally thrive and produce shoots/branches in a healthy
tree (the Cambium Layer) has died off as the centre of the trunk
has decayed and later lost much of its outer bark. Though there
is evidence that some threads of living cambium layer are still
continuous from the ground and able to draw sap to the crown, 90%
or more of the trunk is dead and most, if not all, of the healthy
tree above the trunk is supported by sap flowing through a conduit
that was once part of the cambium layer but which has rounded itself
off and separated itself from the trunk, becoming a pipe from the
roots to the crown. The trunk has become irrelevant, except for
support. The photos show the state of affairs. This conduit (or
Latin –Conductus) is about 3 inches across and has grown over
the past 5 years. It is powerfully able to draw sap.
the lean, the hollow trunk and the limited access to sap, Milton
Wonder still maintains quite a large crown.
Showing the conductus inside the trunk and detached
from the bark. It is fully rounded off and is now a pipe through
which the tree takes its sap. It resembles a 2-3 year old sapling
and, in time, will become a new trunk, though the rest of the tree
will need artificial support, while it grows to take the load.
and Centre, Milton Wonder 5 years ago.
Left - Now.
The excellent apples. Crisp, rich and juicy dessert apples, ripe
in October and also very good when cooked. They can be kept until
May or June.
the Milton Wonder Tree has formed this Conductus then what
was the process and are there any signs of it happening in other trees?
Yes, there are signs in many fruit trees and in other woodland trees.
hypothesis on the lifecycle of fruit trees was fully formed, when
we were contacted by Pamela Brice and her daughter Clare, in 2010
– both charming, enthusiastic and deeply committed to their
old tree. All we needed was a living example of the ‘missing
link’ and they provided it. They sent apples and photographs
of their magnificent old tree and it was soon clear we were dealing
with the perfect example. Their tree might not be 200 years old,
but it will be and will then set its own records.
Brice came to Appleford Farm 58 years ago, though the farm has been
in the family for over 400 years. This apple tree was old then,
but photos of ‘then and now’ show it has grown quite
a lot. William Lawson might say that it had left its first age and
was part way through its second, but not yet in its third. The old
farm, between Rivenhall and Kelvedon in Essex, has an interesting
history, being associated with the ancient Durwards Hall (Dorewards
Hall) and having an old tunnel running between the Hall and the
farm. Whether it was an escape route for catholics or, as Pamela
thinks, a smugglers’ entrance, it has now been bricked up
for safety reasons. Nearby is Hole Farm, which might, mysteriously,
be connected, but we should not be distracted by the place, however
intriguing. It is enough to say the place was once remote and, despite
a lot of early history, the origins of the tree and variety are
tree itself is now hollow and squirrels run up and down inside.
The recent photos show that there is now a bit more to the simple
divided trunk which appears in the 1950s photo, with more than one
new, incipient trunk. (There is another charming 1950s photo showing
Pamela holding toddler Clare in the crook of the trunks, but we
are forbidden from showing that!) When encountering a tree which
branches at low level or has a trunk dividing low or near the ground,
we always enquire of the owner whether there is any history of change
in ground levels. More often than not, it turns out that an old
tree was retained despite earth being packed around as part of a
re-landscaping and ground level raising. It was rare for a fruit
tree, in an age of knowledge and care, to be allowed to divide or
branch low down. It is usually a strong indicator, in old trees,
of a change in levels. (Both sides of the tree bear the same fruit,
so it is not a case of a rootstock shooting and growing on unattended)
In this case, while it might be so, Pamela and Clare have had no
reason to believe levels have ever changed.
apple is not any variety readily known. It has the ‘presence’
of a truly old variety and is a little unusual in its nature. Pamela
and Clare have named it Appleford Serendipity, combining place and
character. It is an autumn dessert apple of medium size and very
colourful with a distinctive deep, but open eye. The flesh is a
very pleasant blend of acidity and sweetness, with a good flavour.
It is unusual when it comes to biting and chewing. The juice explodes
in the mouth, so instantly and so completely that what is left feels
a little dry. We have not experienced this before and it would be
interesting to see how easily it is juiced. It might be just the
experience of one particular year and one place, but it is a little
unusual. We are now producing the first few new trees, from wood
kindly provided by Pamela and Clare.
- Appleford Serendipity in the mid 1950s. The tree is already mature
and starting to show signs at the base of rounding out. It has obviously
continued to grow significantly in the last half century.
- returning to the matter of why this tree is important, and with
the benefit of the photos to illustrate the point, - this tree is
producing new trunks, not quite in the same way as Milton Wonder
where the new trunk has become separated from the old, but by gradual
re-growth of the trunk, between the areas of decay in the old trunk.
Again we see these conducti having rounded themselves out
into emerging new trunks, with the tree seemingly aware that parts
are decaying and that survival depends upon ‘rounding’
away from the dying areas. Perhaps Lawson was not entirely right
in viewing trees as limited in their span, assuming as he did that
growth was limited to the ‘first age’ of fruit trees.
fruit trees can retain the power of growth (and even quite vigorous
growth) but apply it only at need (since old un-decayed trees do
indeed stop growing) and shift it to a different purpose and location.
Left and Right
- The left hand trunk has gone hollow and where the mouth opens
there is clear evidence that the living edge has rounded to form
a conductus. On the far left the conductus has
even produced a new branch. The old right hand trunk has failed
and is hollow below with some residual dead wood remaining above.
Two surviving areas of living cambium have now almost completely
rounded into incipient new trunks. These will become two very close
trees. In between both old trunks, there is some indication that
two other conducti are swelling, perhaps because the wood
that forms the cruck is now dying. Another looks well advanced on
the left hand old trunk, anticipating further decay in this trunk.
- Seen from behind, the new incipient trunk to the left is clearly
evident. In the (now) right hand trunk the wood has divided into
three zones, perhaps due to shear from the wind at some point. This
wood might be dying at the edges of the zones, to the extent that
the living cambium cannot (or will not) bridge the break. It seems
to be the case with other trees that a rotting interior makes the
effort pointless. The living cells seem to sense where and how growth
is best made.
- With a better directional light, the rounding in the photo above
is brought into better relief. The three areas are rounding and
growing independently. The likelihood of shear damage seems more
current indications, this two-trunked old tree is turning into a
seven trunked old tree and that begs the question of whether it
was originally a one-trunked tree and whether the 1950s photo showed
a tree that had already recovered from old age.
- A perfect
shot of what has happened in the now missing trunk, as well as
a good view of the squirrel run!
Not only has
the middle of the trunk gone, all the way to ground level, but
there is another area of dead trunk to the right, at ground level.
The cambium in touch with the roots has given up on this area
and has formed two conducti which join above. In time,
as they expand and the dead area disappears, it is likely they
will meet and fuse at ground level.
On the left
hand trunk, the new branch (which emerges from the conductus seen
in the other photos) will become a separate new tree.
||The apples of
will expand on our observations of just what is going on with this
re-generation below in ‘Life-cycle of survival’, but
we need to add just a few comments on other old and interesting
- A section of a 100 year old Long Reinette tree that fell over
at The Lee, Buckinghamshire. The centre was decaying and half of
the trunk was no longer living (see the left hand side of the section).
The right hand side shows that the living cambium was still growing
(the spacing of the rings showed quite rapid growth) and starting
to form the sort of convolutions that sometimes end in full rounding.
Sections can give some interesting insights into why and how they
alter their patterns of growth.
- A truly ancient and huge apple tree - The Shustoke Apple. The
front and right views tell the whole story. The living cambium has
to follow a tortuous route to the root system, but the tree still
lives and supports a crown. It might not do so for long as the rootstock
and roots are now exposed and decaying. It is very uncommon to see
an old tree display the point of grafting, as ground levels rise
and age itself disguises the union, but the distinction is clearly
visible here. It is most likely that ground level has been lowered
here, to the possible demise of the tree.
there are signs of rounding, above, it might be the case that the
rootstock does not have this capacity in its makeup, or perhaps
the tree is now just too weak. However, we have seen worse and some
trees can lose 80% of the circle of their trunk and still grow from
what is left.
- An ancient apple tree at Wotton Estate, which fell many,
many years ago. The main part of the trunk rotted away completely,
and the vertical shoots it sent up are now very old. By falling
into soft moist soil and rooting, old fruit trees can begin a new
life over and over again. If you have a fruit tree that falls, try
to remove any branches that keep the trunk away from the ground,
and mound up soil around the tree if possible. Reduce some branches
to relieve the load on the tree and its need for sap. You will probably
find that it survives and sends up new trunks.
- The Maxstoke Nibbler. A very old and tall pear tree which has
been hit by lightning several times. That, and the tendency of many
old pear varieties to twist, has given it is dramatic appearance.
Depending up your view of it, it looks like two entwined dancers,
or an argument between a man and a woman. It is pure Art Nouveau.
also can form conducti, though far fewer are seen, since
fewer pears were planted in orchards and gardens and they have been
more ruthlessly removed - growing too high and looking far more
scruffy in old age - before they can re-grow. We have not yet seen
a pear that has reached the stage of certain re-generation.
Wolverton Crab. The most decayed apple tree we have seen, but one
that is still alive and growing. Thankfully the crown has gone.
Had it not, it would have taken the tree with it. Now, the two wafer
thin remains of the trunk wave in the wind at Wolverton, the deserted
Anglo Saxon village around which Milton Keynes has been built.
might be the oldest apple tree in the country and is one of many
which appear to be in completely the wrong place - unless they are
much older than they deserve to be and predate land use changes
in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Manor at Wolverton was owned
by a seemingly grasping and administratively inadequate family called
Longueville. They 'enclosed' the village much earlier than other
enclosures. By 1654 the enclosures were complete and all the villagers
were gone. Where was once a thriving village there became just open
fields. This is where Wolverton Crab still lives, surrounded by
nothing. If you accept the belief that no-one would plant a fruit
tree in the middle of grazed pasture land, and consider how old
this tree looks, you might, like us, be inclined to believe that
this tree was there before 1654 - and over 350 years old. It might
just be old enough to get a valid carbon dating result.
are now producing some new trees.
- A fine old tree at Ashfold School, formerly Dorton House. The
history of the place goes back several centuries and this is one
of two apple trees that survive outside the kitchen garden and orchard
that were created in the mid 18th century. They appear to be survivors
from an earlier age, being in a location that makes no other sense.
The chief interest for us, here, is the degree of corrugation and
rounding of the trunk, even to a significant height. Though it is
difficult to tell, we suspect the trunk is hollow and the rounding
has been going on for many years. Curiously, the outer trunk has
not been breached, perhaps due to its sheltered location. It might
be that the corrugation was begun by the growing cambium at the
first sign of trouble, but the trouble was not quick in developing.
Nevertheless the corrugation continued to produce this very unusual
- Very close to the above tree is another apple at Ashfold.School.
It is a very good example of the weathering that occurs to bark,
once the growth phase (of Lawson) is ended. It becomes scaly, rather
than crusted, and eventually quite smooth. It is a sure sign that
the circumferences of the trunk and branches have stopped expanding,
year by year. We come onto this subject shortly.
observation can vary enormously with location and the variation
is probably due to exposure to the elements. This tree and the other
at Dorton are probably of similar ages yet one exhibits rounding
and the other exhibits smooth, ungrowing bark. Old trees generally
seem to fall into one or the other camps. We suggest smooth barked
trees come to that state with a solid core and good health. Corrugation
seems to begin with trauma or decay inside. It might also be the
case that different trees are guided by different genetics, that
govern which way they will go.
- The hollow Caldecotte Pear Tree resides alone within the deserted
village of Caldecotte (Caldecott), Buckinghamshire, but it is not
without company, the deserted village site having been wonderfully
preserved while a wasteland of overbearing modern housing has been
parked all round. Even the ancient village pond now looks no more
than a bomb crater. Such are the priorities of the modern urban
planner. Caldecotte is close to the Roman Watling Street and, like
the Wolverton Crab, the Caldecotte Pear tree would not conceivably
have been planted there in the last 200 years. It is now without
its top and survives by conducti up a decaying short trunk.
Curiously, the tree mutated at some ancient point, with some foliage
bronzed, while the rest is green. The variety is clearly old and
unknown. There will new trees available this year.
- Lastly, we come to Sir Isaac Newton's Tree.
It might be wondered why we did not consider this along with the
Bramley, Milton Wonder etc.. It is simply that the provenance
of the tree at Woolsthorpe Manor is decidedly suspect.
goes that Sir Isaac Newton returned to his birthplace at Woolsthorpe
Manor in 1665 when Cambridge University was closed as the Plague
came nearer. While there, he came up with his Theory of Gravitation,
supposedly 'occasioned by the fall of an apple'. There is no statement
from Newton or his contemporaries that this observation occured
at Woolsthorpe, and the notion of an apple falling on his head
was an embellishment (like many others) added later. Nevertheless,
a particular tree at Woolsthorpe came to fame in the 18th century
and was much visited. Whether it was there in 1666 is uncertain.
Whether it survived is the area of contention.
As will be
apparent, we are very happy to accept and laud old fruit trees,
believing as we do that many are very, very old. We do not doubt
that there is an old tree at Woolsthorpe, having fallen and regrown,
but when it comes to sending a piece of that tree into space on
the Space Shuttle, as the genuine article, and when vistors to
Woolsthorpe are clearly given the impression that Newton sat under
this tree, it is time to take a step back and take a reality check.
We do not
want to destroy the romance of the story but we need to be careful
about the evidence, when it comes to an apple tree that would now
be 400 years or more old, if Newton sat under a mature apple tree
watching an apple fall. It is perfectly possible that an old apple
tree can fall, re-grow and reach 400 years - perhaps much more,
with another falling - but where is the evidence that this particular
tree was there when Newton was there? That evidence does not exist,
despite a step-by-step revision, by writers over the past 200 years,
of the tree surviving. Moreover, there is good evidence to the contrary.
The owners of
Woolsthorpe, the National Trust, in their literature say “you
can still see the famous apple tree from Newton’s bedroom
window” and “Isaac Newton’s apple tree... is one
of the most historically important trees in Britain, a celebrated
national treasure for over 300 years. It is believed to be the apple
tree that inspired Isaac Newton in 1665 when the ‘notion of
gravitation came to mind’ after he watched an apple fall.
The tree, a rare variety Flower of Kent, fell over in 1820 but is
still growing well having rooted where the trunk touched the ground”.
It is no wonder that the myth is encouraged when they receive more
than 33,000 visitors each year with the income that is entailed.
However the evidence is that the tree was completely lost in 1820,
even assuming this particular tree was co-existent with Newton.
The first account, of Newton being in his own garden with a particular
tree involved, did not arrive until the early 19th century.
Let's go back
to the 1660s. Newton would have been thinking about gravity for
many years. He uses the example of an apple falling, perhaps for
convenience without any particular apple in mind, or he has indeed
mused upon a particular apple. Apple trees would have been all around
him and for as many miles as he cared to travel. Something that
has never been brought to the debate is that Newton was very keen
on growing cider trees (as his letters confirm) and he is on record
as having fruit trees, including the cider variety, Redstreak, and
was seeking 30-40 grafts of cider trees to plant at Woolsthorpe.
Every house with a bit of land would have had some fruit trees and
Woolsthorpe would be no exception. Trees would come and go and there
is no surprise in there being a survivor there now. Perhaps Newton
planted the tree in question or perhaps it came later. In Newton's
letters no more was ever said by him than that he was sitting in
a garden when he observed an apple fall.
above comes from a widely published and influential book ‘Old
England-A Pictorial Museum, published in 1847 and edited by Charles
Knight. He speaks of an orchard, and not just one tree, as would
surely have been normal for such a house. He says “The apple-tree
that used to be pointed out to visitors, as the one from which the
particular fruit in question fell, no longer exists, having been
thrown down by the wind. A drawing of it was preserved and another
tree grafted on the stock. Our engraving represents, with literal
fidelity, the exterior of the place”
Then we have
the testimony of Sir David Brewster, the greatest authority on Newton
and the author of 'Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries
of Sir Isaac Newton' in 1855. In Chapter 27 he says "The celebrated
apple tree, the fall of one of the apples of which is said to have
turned the attention of Newton to the subject of gravity, was long
ago destroyed by wind". In note 18 of Chaper II he says "We
saw the apple tree in 1814, and brought away a portion of one of
its roots. The tree was so much decayed that it was taken down in
1820, and the wood of it carefully preserved...by Mr Turnor of Stoke
Rochford". There are various accounts of what happened to the
wood but the most likely is that the wood was used to make a chair
for Woolsthorpe Library. Interestingly, The Times, in 1939, reported
that the Lord Mayor of London, on an official visit to Canada, presented
Stanley Park, Vancouver, with some ivy and soil from Woolsthorpe
Manor since "there exists no authentic scion of the apple tree
in the orchard at Woolsthorpe, though there is one in the neighbourhood".
was the tree planted in Lord Brownlow’s garden at nearby Belton
House. Around the time of the demise of the tree at Woolsthorpe
in 1820, the Rev Charles Turnor propagated this new tree.
The East Malling
Research Station in Kent, attached to the National Fruit Trials,
obtained scionwood from the tree at Belton House in the 1930s and
it was from there that trees have spread back into the country.
The apple variety has since been assumed to be 'Flower of Kent',
first recorded in 1629 in Parkinson’s Paradisus, but the apple
does not accord with the brief descriptions of Parkinson and, later,
Forsyth. Fuller descriptions by Lindley, Scott and Hogg are also
not quite in accord and we suspect that 'Sir Isaac Newton's Tree'
is not Flower of Kent, the latter now being 'lost' and in need of
rediscovery. But the burning question is this - Why would they take
scions from Belton House when Woolsthorpe is just a stone’s
For such an
important tree it is surprising how little has been written about
it, outside of recent years. Though the National Trust have owned
Woolsthorpe for several decades, they have not made any great claims
until recent years. In the cases of the books by Knight and Brewster
we should ask another question. If their firm statements that the
tree was gone were not true, why was their error not resolved at
the time? Further, the Lord Mayor's visit to Canada was reported
in The Times. Again, why was this not contested if it was
not so? We suggest the contest was missing because the tree was
missing and now attempts are made to take an old existing tree and
rewrite history around it. Or perhaps not. Let's allow a little
of the romance to live on!