Updated: Apr 23
2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission from 1971. This mission involved a three-man crew of Stuart Roosa, Alan Shepard Jr., and Edgar Mitchell. As a result of their mission, the crew took with them and eventually brought back multiple species of tree seeds that are now dubbed moon trees.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) received these seeds when Apollo 14 made it's way back to the earth. The USFS treated and eventually began growing the moon trees. Eventually, the Texas A&M Forest Service (TAFS) acquired a cut of the original tree. Which eventually led to The Gardens at Texas A&M University has a descendant of the original tree in their garden.
Joseph Johnson, Gardens Manager, explains what species their moon tree is and which astronaut from the mission was the one who took and returned the seeds.
“The moon tree is a Loblolly pine (Pinus Taeda) that is a genetic copy of the original pine see that journeyed to the moon and back,” said Johnson. “Stewart Rosa was the astronaut who took these seeds to the moon and back.”
The TAFS had a cutting of the moon tree seed, which led to the decision to ultimately donate the tree to The Gardens. With numerous botanical gardens around the state, why did they choose Texas A&M?
“The reason why [the TFS] picked The Gardens is that we are a premier teaching garden, and they felt it was a great location for all the community to see. Plus, The Gardens are here to stay for many generations. We know that this tree will not have any issues with the construction of buildings as the campus grows,” Johnson said. “We wanted to be sure it was in a secure place. Being a teaching garden, we love to have trees that have stories associated with them.”
As someone who has been there since the beginning, Johnson views the incorporation of the moon tree as a testament to the Apollo program and a story that will span generations.
“What I enjoy about it is that this is a tree that has a great story and an interesting legacy associated with it. Being as young as it is, [I’m] excited to know that this tree will be here for many generations to enjoy and learn about it,” Johnson said. “Also, the importance of the Apollo program and the research that went on. As for this particular research, seeing if there are changes that may happen with germinating tree seeds that are taken to space and back. It’s all a part of the learning process.”