Why does nobody know about Newton’s tree?

Brown’s campus has over one hundred trees. None of these trees should go unnoticed, but there is one in particular that should stand above the rest. In the center of the parking lot between Hope and George street, an apple tree was firmly rooted. This tree, unlike others like it on campus, came from a graft of the legendary tree that dropped an apple on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, which famously led to his theory of gravity. While Brown’s campus is home to this piece of living history, most people on campus do not even know it exists.

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15 years ago, Professor Humphrey Maris of the Physics department, ordered a piece of the famous tree from a plant nursery. It was no higher than 3 feet when Professor Maris planted the tree in between the Applied Mathematics building and Barus and Holley.

In May 2014, plans for a new Applied Mathematics building were announced. The location was set to be right where the infamous apple tree stands. Construction began in November 2014, and Brown released a picture of the site just days before ground broke. And in the photo: all the trees still firmly rooted into the ground.

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With no news from Brown (publicly) on the state of Newton’s tree, I decided to go to the construction site and see for myself. When I arrived, I was shocked to find that there was no tree in sight. It was taken down. How could it be that this tree, with such an incredible history, could just be taken from us without any sort of warning? I couldn’t believe that in the time it had taken me to research this story, Newton’s tree was gone.

The site of Newton's tree just last week

The site of Newton’s tree just last week. Tree nowhere to be found.

After a bit of detective work, I was able to track down one of the leading voices in the facilities and ground management team. He told me to keep my voice down and stop worrying so much. He sensed the anxiety in my voice, and he explained to me that the tree Professor Maris had planted so many years ago was safe and sound. He assured me that the tree would be returned to the same location once construction was finished. In fact, he explained that the tree was safer in its temporary home than it would have been in the heart of the demolition.

Professor Maris, the man who planted Newton's tree on campus

Professor Maris, the man who planted Newton’s tree on campus

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Stanton

    Amazing! I have lived in providence for 25 years and had no idea.

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