In search of the Moon Tree

With spring finally here I decided that today should be a day of discovery. More specifically, I set out in search of something that I had first read about on the pages of Atlas Obscura – a tree, grown from seeds that had traveled to space with astronaut Stuart Roosa on the Apollo 14 Moon mission in 1971.  The seed was one of about 200 from 5 different species, and despite the name they were never actually on the moon – they merely orbited the moon as part of Roosa’s personal belongings. After returning from space the seeds were  germinated together with controls that never left Earth. (And apparently, after about 20 years of observation there was no obvious difference between the two groups).

philadelphia_tree_brochure

Brochure for the Moon Tree planting (nasa.gov)

Then, in 1975 one of these trees was transferred to Philadelphia and planted in Washington Square to commemorate the country’s bicentennial anniversary. It was a big event (Roosa himself was there, too) and started a whole boom of Moon Trees being planted all over the country and even in places like Switzerland and Brazil.

Having heard of it, I decided to do some nerd-tourism and see for myself. I had previously seen pictures of the tree that looked fairly impressive, and while Atlas Obscura mentioned that the original tree had died and been replaced by a clone, it took me a while to find the new one. Because I did definitely not expect this:

MoonTree

Moon Tree in Philadelphia in 2008 (photo: George100/wikimedia) and 2017.

Yep, that tiny stick in the mud seems to be the famous “Moon Tree” 🙂

Pretty anti-climactic, isn’t it? To some extent it’s kinda funny that a plant would survive a trip to the moon, but then die here in Philly 🙂

In a little bit more detail (based on a recent article in a local Philadelphia news site), it seems that by 2005 the original tree was pretty much deteriorating and so scientists from UPenn’s Morris Arboretum took some cuttings and rooted them, cloning the tree. After the original tree was cut out in 2008, they waited a couple of years, and planted the new clone in 2011, so the current stick in the mud is really only 5 years old – despite what the plaque says…

IMAG0747

The plaque, conveniently omitting the fact that this is actually a Moon Tree clone…

But hey, it’s still a cool part of local AND space history!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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