When Apollo 14 launched in 1971, astronauts weren’t the only thing sent to the moon. Hundreds of tree seeds packed in small containers were brought on board by astronaut Stuart Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service (USFS) smokejumper. The seeds orbited the moon with Roosa in his personal kit as part of an informal USFS project to study seed germination and growth.

The seeds were chosen from five types of trees – loblolly pine, sycamore, sweetgum, redwood and Douglas fir – representing each of the country’s regions. Upon their return from space, the seeds were to be germinated by the USFS but exploded from the pressure once opened. While scientists weren’t sure if any tree seeds would still germinate, some proved successful. Most of the viable seedlings were donated in the late 1970s as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration and planted throughout the United States. They are referred to as “Moon Trees.”

Few records were kept, since this experiment was not a formal one. However, the NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive has compiled a list of believed Moon Tree locations, including several Florida cities. Those locations and types of trees are:

  • Brevard County – Kennedy Space Center, sycamore*
  • Gainesville – University of Florida, sycamore and two loblolly pines*
  • Keystone Heights – Keystone Heights Public Library, sycamore
  • Perry – Forest Capital State Park, loblolly pine
  • Tallahassee – Cascades Park, sycamore, and Doyle Conner Office Complex, loblolly pine.

Brevard County’s Moon Tree was blown over in 2017 by Hurricane Irma. In 2019, it was replaced with a Moon Tree Garden in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center courtyard. In the garden are pieces made from the original tree and 12 of the tree’s descendants, including statues carved from the tree’s wood and paintings made using the tree’s sawdust. The City of Gainesville’s two loblolly pines are no longer alive, but the sycamore tree still exists on campus.

The City of Keystone Heights received its Moon Tree as a donation from the University of Florida. The tree is located prominently next to City Hall and outside the City’s library. The City of Perry’s Moon Tree is located at the Forest Capital Museum State Park in front of the ranger’s homestead. A plaque identifies the City of Tallahassee’s Moon Trees in their locations in the northwest corner of Cascades Park and at the Florida Forest Service, Doyle Conner Office Complex.

The Moon Trees stand today across Florida and the United States as a monument to the nation’s moon expeditions. Florida was and continues to be a home for innovation and ingenuity in the Space Age.

*Trees no longer alive

Reference: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov