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Artist makes ink from clone of Newton’s apple tree that fell in storm

The clone was planted at Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden in 1954.

An artist has made ink from a clone of Newton’s apple tree that was blown down by Storm Eunice in Cambridge last year.

The fallen tree was a scion of the original apple tree which was said to have inspired Sir Isaac Newton to formulate his theory of gravity by watching an apple fall from it in the 1660s.

The clone was planted at Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden in 1954 and fell in high winds in February 2022.

The original tree, grown in the garden of Newton’s childhood home of Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham in Lincolnshire, was said to have fallen in a gale in the early half of the 19th century.

Artist Nabil Ali has made ink from the fallen clone of Newton's apple tree. (Louise Walsh/ PA)
Artist Nabil Ali has made ink from the fallen clone of Newton’s apple tree (Louise Walsh/PA)

The Cambridge tree was stored away ready for creative ideas on what to do with the timber after it fell.

A year later, the botanic garden’s artist-in-residence Nabil Ali has extracted ink from its bark, and used the resulting ink to create an artwork of 68 apples – to mark the age of the tree before it fell.

To make the ink, he peeled away some of the bark and soaked it for a day-and-a-half in his workshop before grinding it, boiling it to release the tannin and adding the chemical compound alum.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has discovered the colours hidden with a descendent of Newton’s inspiring tree,” he said.

“I thought I’d end up with black pigment but it’s a dark golden yellow.

Artist Nabil Ali works with the bark in his workshop. (Louise Walsh/ PA)
Artist Nabil Ali works with the bark in his workshop (Louise Walsh/PA)

“I’m calling it ‘Newton’s Gold’.”

Dr Samuel Brockington, curator of Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden, said the genome of the Cambridge tree was sequenced by the Darwin Tree of Life project.

“From this analysis, our tree seems identical to other descendants, and so we can say with confidence that ours is a direct clone of the original tree in Grantham, which also fell in a gale in the 19th century,” he said.

In anticipation of the demise of the tree, the team at the botanic garden had been grafting the tree over the past three years and now have relatives of Newton’s apple tree in their reserves.

These will be planted in a different part of the garden to avoid the honey fungus, that probably was responsible for the tree weakening and dying before falling in the storm.

The ink produced from the clone of Newton's apple tree. (Louise Walsh/ PA)
The ink produced from the clone of Newton’s apple tree (Louise Walsh/PA)

Dr Brockington added: “The tree was held in great affection by staff and visitors to the garden and we’ve been hoping for innovative and creative uses of the timber.

“We’re so pleased that Nabil has managed to sample its colour in this way.

“His work is an inspiring way of engaging people in the natural world through art and performance and we look forward to seeing how Newton’s Gold will be used!”

The installation of 68 apples, which are replicas of a cast made from an apple taken from the tree in 2016, will go on display for the first time at Apple Day at Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden on October 22.

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