By Fergus Mason, WIR Contributor

Southern Yellow Pine, in many cases, can be considered a ‘locally grown’ resource. However, here’s a story about how some SYP trees traveled a long, long, long way…like, to the moon and back. It makes for a pretty good story:

Seeds in Space

It starts in 1970, when Stuart Roosa was selected as one of the crew for the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. Oklahoma-raised Roosa had been with NASA since 1966, but he’d started out as a smokejumper for the US Forest Service. When Roosa joined the Apollo 14 crew, Forestry Service chief Ed Cliff, who remembered Roosa from his firefighting days, got in touch to ask a favor: Could Roosa take some seeds into space?

Apollo Astronaut Col. Stuart Allen Roosa

Apollo Astronaut Col. Stuart Allen Roosa. Image via NASA.

This wasn’t just a cool idea, it was real research. Darwin soaked seeds in seawater then planted them in his garden to see if they could survive floating between islands; Cliff wanted to know if the seeds would still grow after spending time in zero gravity. So he made up two identical batches of seeds, including a bunch from loblolly Southern Yellow Pines. Cliff kept one batch and gave the other to Roosa. Those seeds went into space on January 31, 1971 and returned to Earth nine days later. They did seventeen orbits of the moon on board the Apollo 14 command module.

SYP Has Landed

Once the seeds were back home, the Forest Service planted them, along with the “control” seeds that had stayed at home – and they grew. In a few years there were more than 400 trees grown from seeds that had been to the moon and back, and a lot of them were loblolly pines.

Those trees have now scattered far and wide. Some of them were sent overseas but most are still here in the USA. Many were planted in experimental forests, usually right beside a control tree so scientists could study them for any differences. So far it looks like they’re just growing into normal trees, and there are a few places you can see that for yourself.

Where Can You See these “Moon Trees”?

A lot of states received these “moon trees” as part of the bicentennial celebrations in 1976 and you’ll find them growing at state capitols, museums, and botanical gardens. Alabama has three loblolly pines that were on Apollo 14, Arkansas has two. There’s one in Louisiana, and another in Tennessee. NASA has a list of all the ones they know about.

Alabama State Capitol Moon Tree in Montgomery, AL. Image via NASA.

Alabama State Capitol Moon Tree in Montgomery, AL. Image via NASA.

So while Southern Yellow Pine’s a “down home” lumber, it’s an adventurous one too. There’s more loblolly pine that’s been to the moon and back than people, which makes us kind of proud of our trees. When you build with SYP, the wood comes from trees that stayed closer to home. But, if you ask us, those moon trees growing all round the country just make SYP even more out of this world.







(Images via NASA, Cover image shows the Moon Tree planted at the Society of American Foresters in Bethesda, Maryland)