Looking up, craning my neck to see way above me, the underside of a huge Coast Redwood is displayed. Sequoia sempervirens. I let the majestic tree fill me with its powerful life force. I touch its trunk; I can tell by the soft bark that it is a Sequoia.
On a recent visit to Monterey, California on the North Central Coast, I visited the historic plaza where Monterey’s City Hall Bldg is located. I was walking through the plaza’s mostly native plant garden on a pleasant, sunny afternoon, when the walking path took me into the shade of the giant tree. A plaque told me it was the “Moon Tree”, so named because it had been up in space .. as a seed!
I wanted to share the story of the Moon Tree with you. Some 42 years ago, back in 1971, one man brought hundreds of tree seeds with him into space. That man was Stuart Roosa of Apollo 14. He took five species of trees into space: sweetgum, loblolly pine, sycamore, douglas fir, and redwood. All the seeds returned to Earth, but not before they had orbited some 34 times! Today Moon Trees grow all over the world, incl the US, Japan, Brazil & Switzerland. One “moon tree seed” is now a Coast Redwood towering over my head in downtown Monterey: the lovely Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens.
This begs the question: why seeds? Of all the things an astronaut could bring into space in his personal gear, why would he bring seeds? It was Stuart Roosa’s connection with the US Forest Service that made him think of the tree seeds. Roosa once worked with the US Forest Service as a smoke jumper, parachuting into forest fires in remote areas.
Roosa wanted to see if the tree seeds would grow any differently than seeds grown on earth. So when Apollo 14 returned to Earth, the moon seeds were germinated side by side with the terrestrial seeds.
“The Douglas fir and the coast redwood came to Placerville,” said Roger Stutts. “They germinated quite normally. Some hoped the trees would grow differently.” Stutts worked at the Institute of Forest Genetics, Placerville, CA where Monterey’s Moon Tree was raised.
Amazingly, that trip into space had no negative effect on this tree’s growth. In fact, the tree is thriving.
The planting of the Moon Tree at Monterey’s Friendly Plaza in 1976 was a great way to bring to the community and visitors to Monterey an awareness of native trees, highlighting the resilience of the Coastal Redwood. You can walk up to the tree and touch it and say “this tree once orbited the earth.” Pretty cool!
Maybe there is a moon tree near you. If there is, we’d love to hear about it!
For a list of moon trees in the US, try this link: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/moon_tree.html
This moon tree map pinpoints the location of Moon Trees in the US : http://pillownaut.blogspot.com/2012/07/apollo-moon-tree-map.html courtesy of Camilla Corona of NASA.
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