A redwood from outer space

Redwood at State Capitol was planted from seeds that flew on Apollo 14

Sacramento Moon Tree
Planted in 1976, the Moon Tree at the California State Capitol is already more than 120 feet tall.

It is well known that coast redwoods can reach incredible heights, but can they reach as far as the moon? Well, yes, sort of. For example, the Moon Tree at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, located just off the north entrance. It was planted in 1976 using a seed taken into close lunar orbit aboard Apollo 14 by Astronaut Stuart Roosa. 

Why Roosa did all this is rooted (no pun intended) in his origins as an astronaut. Originally he worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a firefighter, and evolved into the dangerous work of a smokejumper, parachuting into hot spots. He went on to enlist as an Air Force cadet, and the rest is history. But he never lost his love of forests and trees. 

moon tree plaque
A simple plaque by the entrance to Capitol marks the Moon Tree.

Ed Cliff, who led USFS in the 1970s, knew of Roosa from his days as a smokejumper, and he, Roosa, and other Forest Service members came up with the idea for the Moon Tree project.  

And the coast redwood in Sacramento is far from the only tree to come of Roosa’s experiment. One can be found in downtown Monterey, there are two at Berkeley’s Tilden Park, one in San Luis Obsipo, three at Cal Poly Humboldt, etc.   

Important to note that Roosa didn’t just take redwood seeds up into space. He also took loblolly pines, Douglas firs, and sycamores—and these grow all over the country. No one really knows how many there are growing around the country, but the Moon Tree Foundation has counted just shy of 100 thus far.

About the author

Garrison Frost joined Save the Redwoods League in 2019 as its Director of Communications.

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