DNA test could make connection between Pocahontas and ancient tree in Heacham

The Mulberry tree at Heacham Manor Hotel. Photo: Carolyn Johnson.
The Mulberry tree at Heacham Manor Hotel. Photo: Carolyn Johnson.

A centuries-old mulberry tree in Heacham is set to be DNA tested this year to establish whether it could have been planted by Pocahontas.

The tree, which is on the grounds of Heacham Manor Hotel, has always been the fascination of local Christine Dean, who has carried out extensive research on the subject.

The Mulberry tree at Heacham Manor Hotel. Photo: Carolyn Johnson.

The Mulberry tree at Heacham Manor Hotel. Photo: Carolyn Johnson.

Mrs Dean recently suggested to staff at the hotel that they get in touch with the Forestry Commission’s Northern Research Station to see if they could find out more.

Mrs Dean said: “If only mulberry trees could talk – what a tale they might tell.”

Legend has it that the Native American visited England with her husband John Rolfe, from Heacham, in 1616 and planted a mulberry tree at Heacham Hall Grounds.

To this day, the tree is still growing and it produces fruit regularly.

Staff at the hotel are now waiting for fresh leaves to shoot before sending a six-inch branch to the lab in Scotland, which is expected to happen in May.

It is hoped that the DNA analysis will show whether there is a match between this tree and three other ancient mulberry trees at locations which Pocahontas visited during her stay in England.

These are at Narford Hall, Buckingham Palace, and Syon House in London – which is believed to have the oldest surviving mulberry tree dating back to 1548.

Marketing manager Graham Bray said: “It’s a very interesting story, and we are certainly enjoying it. We are very grateful for all the work Christine has done and to the Northern Research Station.

“There is a cost and investment involved in doing this, to further try and prove the legend, but we are committed to continuing the research and tests.

“One wonders if we will ever be able to prove this, but we might be able to get closer to working out the connections. Although the test results would not conclusively prove that Pocahontas planted the tree, it would get us one step closer if the results were positive.”

Heacham Manor Hotel staff will also be exploring further possibilities of working with the biology lab at the Columbus State University in Georgia, USA.

Mrs Dean has already made contact with a professor over there, who is a mulberry tree expert and has done DNA testing with American species of the tree.

The news has coincided with the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas’ death, which was marked at a special memorial service on Tuesday in Gravesend, Kent, where the princess was buried in 1617.

Heacham Manor Hotel will be updating the story in the coming weeks on their website: www.heacham-manor.co.uk.

It is hoped that Mrs Dean will keep a blog on the progress on the site.