Did Pocahontas plant this tree in grounds of Heacham Manor Hotel?
- Credit: Archant
Scientists are studying the DNA of a centuries-old tree - to see if it could have been planted by Pocahontas.
Legend has it the native American princess visited Heacham 400 years ago, after she married a colonist who came from the Norfolk coastal village.
She is believed to have planted a mulberry tree in the grounds of Heacham Manor, her husband John Rolfe's family home, when she visited in 1616.
After spending 10 months in England, Pocahontas died suddenly at sea off Gravesend, Kent, in March 1617, as she set sail on her return voyage to Virginia. She was aged just 22 and also left a son.
Retired college lecture Christine Dean has studied the legend of the princess who converted to Christianity and married a Norfolk tobacco grower.
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She hopes the DNA will shed more light on the story of Pocahontas, whose portrait features on Heacham's nearby village sign.
Experts will be looking for links between the Heacham Manor tree and three other ancient mulberries at Narford, in Norfolk; Buckingham Palace and Syon House in London.
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Pocahontas is thought to have collected seed from one of the trio to plant. If one turns out to be a forbear of the Heacham tree, it would confirm the story, at least circumstantially.
Graham Bray, Heacham Manor's marketing manager, said: 'There's a connection and we are taking that a little bit further now.
'Whether it can ever be absolutely conclusive I think will be a challenge, but stranger things have happened.'
Despite its advancing years, Mr Bray said the 30ft tree was still very much alive, producing a bumper crop of fruit last year.
As soon as its leaves have opened this spring, a branch will be sent to a Forestry Commission laboratory in Scotland, where DNA samples will be taken for analysis.
Built in the 1580s Heacham Manor, which overlooks The Wash on Hunstanton Road, is now a luxury hotel and spa.
As well as members of the Rolfe family, the house has been owned over the years by the Le Strange family, who founded nearby Hunstanton.
It has also been managed by the Edrich family. Famous England cricketers Bill Edrich and Dennis Compton are said to have played cricket on its lawn.