TUSCUMBIA — Edward Murrey had some time off Friday and decided to drive to the Shoals and visit Ivy Green and one of its unique attractions – the "moon tree."

The Moon Tree is a Loblolly Pine tree planted in October 1976 during the U.S. Bicentennial.

What's special about the tree is it was grown from one of hundreds of tree seeds that orbited the moon during Apollo 14's 1971 trip to the moon. 

While astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the Moon, former U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper Stuart Roosa orbited above in the command module with 400-500 tree seeds that were part of an experiment.

The seeds were brought back to earth, germinated and trees were eventually planted across the United States. It turned out there were no discernible differences in the Moon Trees and the control seeds that remained on earth.

"I just heard about it," the Collinwood resident said. "This is kind of a bonus. I'm a big fan of Helen Keller."

When Aerosmith lead singer Stephen Tyler visited Ivy Green in August, he spent about an hour on the grounds of Helen Keller's birthplace and some of its unique attractions, like the home and the famous water pump.

He also visited the moon tree. 

"Sue took a picture of him hugging that tree," Ivy Green employee Jennifer Elon said.

She was referring to Sue Pilkilton, Ivy Green's director.

Pilkilton said Tyler was only supposed to visit for about 10 minutes and ended up staying over an hour.

"He had studied Helen Keller," she said. "He was just a delight to have here."

Pilkilton said the moon tree is a focal point of Ivy Green tours. 

"It is a vital part of coming to the Keller home," she said.

David R. Williams, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said The U.S Forest Service made the trees available. Originally, each state was supposed to get three seedlings, but that never happened.

The trees ended up at state capitals, school grounds, parks in small towns, girl scout camps and even the White House and NASA space flight centers.

"There was one at Kennedy, one at Goddard," Williams said. 

Many of the trees died, he said, for various reasons, even though Roosa tried to takes seeds of trees that would grow in most parts of the U.S.

"I haven't found any moon trees in New England," Williams said.

In addition to Loblolly Pine, Roosa also brought seeds of Douglas fir, Redwood, Sweetgum and Sycamore trees.

"They tried to get a range of trees," Williams said. "They tried to cover most of the climate ranges they could."

Williams said bringing the seeds on the mission was more of a publicity stunt than an actual experiment.

"Nobody expected there to be any difference," Williams said. "I know of about 80 that are alive."

A Sycamore tree was planted at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and a Loblolly pine was planted at the state capitol in Montgomery. There is also a Loblolly pine at the Alabama Pioneer Museum in Troy.


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