ArborScape Friday Tree Fact: The Moon Trees
ArborScape Friday Fun fact! The Moon Trees
In 1971, astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds aboard Apollo 14 as part of his personal luggage. In his earlier life, Roosa worked for the Forest Service in the early 1950s as a smoke jumper fighting fires and later joined the Air Force and became a test pilot. The US Forestry Service gave the seeds to Roosa to take with him because of his earlier career. Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees: Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. These seeds orbited the moon 34 times aboard Apollo 14’s command module—Roosa never walked on the moon himself. When he returned to Earth, the seeds were planted, and five years later, saplings were sent all around the country (and even overseas) as part of American bicentennial celebrations.
Shortly after that, puzzlingly enough, everyone apparently simply forgot about them. It wasn’t until 1997 that they were rediscovered. Cannelton Elementary School in Indiana had a tree on their grounds with a “Moon Tree” plaque, but no idea what that meant. They called NASA, and no one there had any idea either. Their inquiries prompted scientist Dave Williams to do some digging, and he was able to root out the tree’s history. He’s since collected details on over 50 of them. There are likely hundreds more around the world, so if you know of any, you can email him and help reconstruct a piece of history.
(For those of you seeking the key to tree superpowers and thinking “outer space”: sadly, the moon trees have been compared with trees from their sibling seeds that never left Earth – and found to be no different.)
Following Apollo 14, Roosa was the backup command module pilot for Apollo 16 and 17. He then worked on the Space Shuttle program until his retirement as a Colonel in the Air Force in 1976.
Col. Roosa passed away in December 1994. The Moon Trees continue to flourish, a living monument to our first visits to the Moon and a fitting memorial.
Believed locations of some Moon Trees are listed on this page, but no list was ever kept nor any systematic tracking made of the disposition of all the trees. If you know of a Moon Tree, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.