What happens if you take a tree seed to the moon, then plant it back on Earth? For years, no one knew the answer to this crucial, burning question- until NASA stepped up to put our minds at peace. Astronaut Stuart Roosa, who was part of the command module team on the 1971 Apollo 14 mission, kept hundreds of tree seeds (in sycamore, Douglas fir, loblolly pine, sweetgum and redwood flavors) in his personal pack during his time in space, with the intention of planting them back on Earth.
Then, things went horribly wrong. Roosa’s container of seeds burst open during the mission, mixing them up and contaminating them with... space, I guess. The seeds, no longer considered viable, were planted anyways, and surprisingly, most germinated. The 400 or so baby trees were sent all over the world and planted.There are no real records of where these so-called “moon trees” actually went or how they’re doing (since apparently tree seeds that have been in space are actually no different than tree seeds that haven’t), but here are a few bizarre known moon tree locations:
Kennedy Space Center has its very own moon tree (duh). It's also got a ton of information on the history of lunar exploration, from the Space Race and the earliest trips to our moon to Roosa's mission, the one where he brought along the moon tree seeds!
A Douglas Fir at the Oregon State Capitol has been helping to keep Oregon weird since it was planted in the 1970s. It's near the state flag display, and it was planted on Arbor Day. The special Douglas fir has been designated an Oregon Heritage Tree, which is the highest honor a tree in Oregon can receive.
There are loads of redwoods in California, but only a few space redwoods, like the two at the Tilden Nature Area. That's right, two moon trees for the price of one! One, an unmarked space redwood, is near the nature center, and the other, which has a plaque, is in the botanical garden's redwood grove.
A moon tree has turned the International Forest of Friendship in Kansas into the Intergalactic Friendship Forest. The moon tree here was planted on Amelia Earhart's birthday by a real, live astronaut, and is surrounded by plaques bearing the names of the 17 astronauts who lost their lives during missions. It's actually a really cool memorial.
Old Washington State Historic Park is one of the country's best-preserved historical villages, but one of its coolest features is pretty anachronistic... a space tree, something they didn't have in the 19th century but is super rad nonetheless. Arkansas received four moon trees total, and this is one of the two that have survived. The other is at Sebastian County Courthouse. Both were planted on Arbor Day.
Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp in Indiana has a space Sycamore from 1976. It appears to live a happy life, blending in among other Sycamore trees. I do hear that the tree has the rare Astronaut Badge, though, which is pretty cool. It's right off the road with a marker, and the scouts appear to care very much about the well-being of their moon tree.
Dillsburg Elementary School in Pennsylvania has a Sycamore, making it much cooler than the average grade school. Maybe if my grade school had a moon tree, I would have actually been motivated to fulfill my dream of becoming an astronaut. It was actually moved here from its original location at another elementary school in town.
The White House has a moon tree too... but even looking at the mystical plant that has survived a trip TO THE FREAKING MOON couldn't convince the Commander in Chief to not kill NASA's moon program. I'm still a little bitter about that. But hey, maybe the next big thing will be Mars trees instead of moon trees. That'd be kinda cool!
The Cradle of Forestry? More like "The Cradle of Lunar Forestry"... because they have a moon tree, too! It's grown to be a respectable 58 feet tall. It's near the Forestry Discovery Center and is the final stop on some of the center's guided tours. It was actually planted in honor of America's bicentennial, which is kind of a big deal.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens has plants from around the world... nay, the galaxy. Because they have a Sycamore moon tree, and it's awesome. This one is located near the gardens' Formal Rose Garden. Sit on the nearby bench and ponder everything this tree has seen and done... and how it, unlike you, has been to the moon.
Ok, so maybe a moon tree is utterly indistinguishable from a normal tree without a commemorative plaque... but I'm going to take this as a positive sign that maybe the moon isn't so different from Earth. Other than the gravity thing. And the atmosphere thing. And the water thing.
Just a Civil War beard enthusiast, writer at Roadtrippers, and aspiring astronaut reaching for the stars.