Monterey's Moon Tree – Monterey, California - Atlas Obscura
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Monterey, California

Monterey's Moon Tree

A tree grown from astronaut seeds which were exposed to cosmic rays. 

This unremarkable-looking tree has a remarkable story.

On the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa carried hundreds of seeds to the moon in his personal kit. Roosa had been a U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper before he joined NASA and the seeds were part of an experiment to see if exposure to radiation in space would affect their subsequent germination and growth. Seeds were chosen from five different types of trees: Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. Corresponding control seeds were kept on Earth for later comparison.

While Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell were exploring the lunar surface (during which time Shepard became the first man to play golf on the moon), Roosa spent 33 hours orbiting overhead taking photos of the lunar surface and doing radar and gravitational experiments. In all, he and the seeds orbited 34 times.

Upon Apollo 14’s return to Earth the seeds were germinated and after a few years the Forest Service had over 400 seedlings. Some of these were planted with their earthbound counterparts as controls but most were given away in 1975 and 1976 to many state forestry organizations to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. These trees were southern and western species, so not all states received trees. Monterey’s Moon Tree is a Redwood. A Loblolly Pine was planted at the White House, and trees were planted in Brazil and Switzerland among other places. However, no comprehensive list was ever kept of the disposition of all of the trees so the locations of many of them are unknown.

Incidentally, no significant difference was ever observed between the trees whose seeds were carried into space and those which remained here on Earth.

Sadly, Stuart Roosa passed away at the age of 61 on December 12, 1994, but today the Moon Trees are a fitting memorial to him and a tribute to the human spirit.

Know Before You Go

Friendly Plaza is located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Pacific and Jefferson Streets. The Moon Tree is at the southern end of the plaza.