The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has removed its original Newton Apple Tree, but its roots remain strong through a pair of clones and Landscape Services’ robust tree management program.
Nebraska U is one of 14 United States locations to have a Flower of Kent tree, which is believed to be the direct descendant of the famous apple tree that inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. The tree, one of the oldest and most cherished arbors on campus, was cloned in 2015 and its two descendants now reside outside Jorgensen Hall. Citing concerns about the tree’s health and public safety, the university made the decision to remove the iconic arbor, which was located on the southwest corner of the Behlen Laboratory building.
“The tree has been declining in health,” said Jeff Culbertson, director of Landscape Services. “It had several large dead branches and it was near pedestrian areas, so we felt like it had declined to the point where it was time for us to remove it.”
Nebraska received its original Newton Apple Tree in 1991 from retired physician Edward Lyman and former horticulture professor Joseph Young. They contacted Richard Keesing of the University of York who had studied the tree. York had a graft of the apple tree that grew on Newton’s property, and a cutting was transported to the university and planted outside Behlen Labs.
The tree’s legacy will remain. In 2015, Landscape Services created two genetic duplicates of the tree, and the duplicates were planted outside Jorgensen hall by Landscape Services. In this location, the tree is appreciated for its storied contribution to science by the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
The clones are just one example of Landscape Service’s dedication to preserving the historic trees on campus.
“I think having trees that have a story is interesting for folks on campus,” Culbertson said. “I think it’s important for new students and I think it’s important for folks who work on campus knowing that there’s this connection of the past with the future. Student studied or relaxed under a significant tree for generations or graduated and had their pictures taken by an important tree. Our nursery manager Laurence Ballard does a good job of finding significant trees on campus and propagating them so that we continue to have them represented on campus into the future.”
In addition to historic trees, Landscape Services cares for all of the more than 9,000 trees that reside across campus to increase campus beauty and functionality.
“Trees do improve the overall campus landscape,” Culbertson said. “They create space and a destination for people to go to on campus. From an atmosphere standpoint it’s someplace to get out of the heat during the summertime and it gives students another place to study.”
The university has a long-standing dedication to preserving its tree population and, in 2008, was one of the first nine universities to earn a Tree Campus USA designation — an honor it has maintained for 14 years. On average, the university gains 10 trees per year, culling about 100 annually due to weather damage, disease or health issues and planting at least 110 every 12 months.
“We strive to have a diverse tree population,” Culbertson said. “Diversity is important because it means that the population is more resilient, it’s more able to handle a variety of conditions. If we have too much of one kind of tree and if there’s a particular pest or weather or situation, then those trees are more susceptible to damage which impacts our overall population. We try to keep numbers below 10 percent so that if something significant happens, like with the Emerald Ash Borer attacks, it our entire urban forest is not impacted.”
And, Landscape Services’ care for and dedication to campus trees goes beyond simply adding to the beauty of grounds at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“From a sustainability standpoint, which is more important than ever, it helps to lower the temperatures of buildings and protect buildings from the wind, the heat and the cold. I think their purposes have become more important to campus and in our communities.”