To space and back: The story of UO’s ‘Moon Tree’
While walking along 13th Avenue on the University of Oregon’s campus, one encounters countless types of trees with intriguing origins and interesting names, but few trees have a story like UO’s “Moon Tree.
Located between the EMU and Carson Hall is the Moon Tree, a seemingly regular Douglas Fir. Upon first look, there’s nothing particularly special about this tree except for the benches around it and a plaque on the ground that reads “Moon Tree (Douglas fir).” The Moon Tree was germinated from a seed that had been to the moon in the 1970s.
In January 1971, the US launched its third manned mission to the moon, Apollo 14. Astronaut Stuart Roosa, who used to work for the United States Forest Service, brought a variety of tree seeds on board the aircraft. According to the Register-Guard, one of these 500 seeds made its way to UO’s campus. After returning from the moon, the seeds were germinated around the country and then sent out to a variety of places and organizations.
According to Jane Brubaker, a campus landscape designer in Facilities Services, UO received the germinated seedling, rather than the seed or tree itself. She said that at the time, “The deciduous trees probably just looked like sticks, but our Douglas fir would have looked like a mini-tree.”
The tree was planted in 1976, the same year as the university’s centennial, according to the Register Guard. There are a few other Moon Trees around Oregon, including one at Oregon State University and one near the capitol building in Salem.
Once UO’s Moon Tree arrived on campus in the ‘70s, its story didn’t end there. According to Brubaker, the tree was originally planted where Willamette Hall is now, but in order to accommodate the growing science complex, the tree was replanted in 1987.
On University Day in 2003, the plaque and benches around the tree were added to commemorate the tree’s history.
Today passersby stop to look at the plaque every so often. To Brubaker and others, the tree serves as a reminder of the moon missions from the 1960s and ’70s. UO includes the tree as the first stop on a self-guided campus tree tour, but otherwise the tree looks pretty normal despite having out-of-this-world origins.
NASA employee Dr. David R. Williams runs a website cataloging Moon Trees around the country. According to the site, there are a total of six in Oregon at the present moment. Dr. Williams’ website was last updated in June 2016. He encourages those who find other moon trees to email him as they aren’t all catalogued.
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