A Relative of One of the Most Famous Trees of All Time Is Hiding in Plain Sight

Trees have their own way of getting your attention — or avoiding it. HelloRF Zcool/Shutterstock

It's never easy having famous relatives. No matter how distantly you may be related to a celebrity, people will still want a piece of you. Sometimes, even literally.

That's why you won't see so much as a picture of a certain lifelong resident of the Stanford University campus in California.

It's fully enrolled in a kind of witness protection program ... for trees. As the Mercury News reports, this specimen bears witness — at least genetically — to one of the most influential trees of all time: the one that inspired Sir Isaac Newton to come up with the theory of universal gravity.

It all began back in 1666 when, by several accounts, the famed physicist was ruminating in the shade of a kind of apple tree known as the "Flower of Kent" in Lincolnshire, England.

And then came the plunk that was heard around the world. No, the apple probably didn't bounce off his head, as later retellings of the story had it. Nature is more subtle than that. Newton would have to sleuth out the workings of gravity on his own. Of course, being a bit of a genius, he didn't have much trouble identifying a universal force that applies to all things on this planet and beyond.

Incredibly, that abiding scientific principle began in the brainy branches of a humble apple tree. It's no wonder then that the tree has gained an almost mythical stature. At 400 years old, Newton's Tree is still alive, although under strict guard by Britain's National Trust.

A genetic copy of Newton's original apple tree.
A regrown graft from Newton's original apple tree located at St. John's College, Cambridge University, England. Shaun in Japan/Shutterstock.com

According to the conservation group, "people have been coming to visit the tree and the manor house at Woolsthorpe ever since Newton's time. When a storm blew the tree down in 1820, pilgrims came to see it lying in the orchard. Sketches were made of it and the broken wood was used to make snuff boxes and small trinkets."

Had it not been for rigorous protection, the tree that inspired a scientific revolution might have been winnowed away by the countless arboreal aficionados who came to pay it homage.

You can see how it still thrives today, all year round, in the video below:

But how did an apple fall so far from the tree that it ended up at a university campus in California? Well, even that journey is wrapped in mystery. As the Mercury News reports, campus officials won't reveal how the tree arrived in the New World.

There are, of course, many clones of Newton's tree all over the world. There's a tree that's a perfect genetic copy growing at Trinity College in Cambridge. Australia boasts a few duplicates too.There's even one growing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In fact, as Atlas Obscura notes, descendants and clones of Newton's Tree "dot college campuses and research centers on every continent, except Antarctica."

They're all strictly monitored and thoroughly well protected. Except for the tree that hides in plain sight at Stanford.

What the school would confirm to the Mercury News was that yes, a descendant of Newton's Tree lives on campus. It's smallish and young. It already bears fruit. And you'll never find it.