Newton's apple tree

15 May, 2011

Sir Isaac Newton.
Sir Isaac Newton.
Image: Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723)

Question: Hi. I read an article in a science journal a number of years back which reported that some cuttings were taken from the apple tree that Isaac Newton was sitting under when he first formed his theory of gravitation and apparently one of these cuttings came to Australia where it was eventually donated to and planted at Scienceworks. Is this true?

Answer:  It may not necessarily have hit him on the head, but why an apple should fall from a tree directly to the ground was the question that certainly prompted Isaac Newton to consider whether that same force might explain why the planets are held in their orbits around the Sun, namely gravity.

According to William Stukeley, one of his earliest biographers, Newton was sitting in the shade of some apple trees when he first asked the question "why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground?"

Following Newton’s death, cuttings were taken from an apple tree that grew at Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton’s birthplace and family home, in Lincolnshire, England, one of which did in fact make its way to Australia. Unfortunately for Museum Victoria, it was not planted at Scienceworks, but can instead be found in the form of a large and healthy tree in the Kenneth Hunt Memorial Garden at the Clayton campus of Monash University.

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