The Flower of Kent is already in flower.
One of two clones of Isaac Newton’s original apple tree is already bearing a blossom, even though the two were planted in late February outside Small Hall. William & Mary received the trees—a traditional cultivar known as the Flower of Kent—as cuttings from the Newton Tree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Martha Case, College Conservator of Botanical Collections, is delighted with the first-year blossom and with the prospect of other blooms to come. She said that she was particularly taken by the flower’s color, which to her surprise had very dark pink buds instead of the more usual pale pink.
“The petals of the bud are pink and then they turn to white as the flower opens,” Case said. “And the contrast of the pink and the white together make it a really attractive flower!”
Case oversaw the care and feeding of the MIT cuttings, working with Jim Orband, a retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent and a Virginia orchardist named Bill Mackintosh to get them ready for their new life on the Virginia Peninsula. The first of William & Mary’s Newton Trees were planted in a Feb. 22 ceremony outside of Small Hall, home of the Department of Physics.
Case, who also is an associate professor of biology, noted that the buds on the trees are opening sporadically, whereas most apples bloom all at once. “I think that may be a function of it being a young tree,” she said. “I am hoping that there’s not some mortality of the buds, related to the late frost we had. We’ll just have to wait and keep an eye on it.”
She also noted that where there is an apple blossom, there is at least the possibility of an apple, not necessarily a good thing for a young tree.
“The function of a flower is to attract pollinators, to produce a fruit,” Case explained, “and if this flower is pollinated, and it is fertilized, it will potentially develop a fruit.”
A young tree has to devote a great deal of resources to developing a fruit, she explained, resources that the plant would otherwise direct towards maintaining growth and hardiness. Most young trees abort the fruit, she added.
“If our trees started to do that, it might be interesting,” she said. “If they started growing too many apples so young, we might want to do something about that. We want them to produce shoots and roots and things like that now.”