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There is some extraordinary news from the heart of Wayne National Forest. In May, the Forest Service received a cosmic upgrade with the planting of a Moon Tree sapling, a sweetgum that has literally been to space and back.

So what is this moon tree all about?

Well, it’s part of a super cool collaboration between NASA and the US Forest Service. This sweet gum sapling was one of fewer than 1,500 saplings that made an epic journey thousands of miles beyond the moon aboard the unmanned Orion spacecraft. Now that’s some travel destinations!

The Artemis I mission, launched on November 16, 2022, was the first step in a series of missions designed to enable human exploration of the Moon.

wayne national forest moon tree
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These moon tree seedlings were lovingly grown in U.S. Forest Service nurseries, and our sweetgum was raised at the Charles E. Bessey Nursery in Halsey, Nebraska. Sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are native to southeastern Ohio, so this little seedling feels right at home here.

Forest ranger Lee Stewart couldn’t be prouder of this new addition.

“The Moon Tree reminds us that caring for the whole often starts as small as a seedling and with innovation, dedication and persistence, anything is possible,” he said. “We are honored to be part of such a unique scientific partnership.”

This brilliant idea comes from Lily Zahor, a silvicultural scientist with the Athens Ranger District, who nominated Wayne National Forest for a Moon Tree. Her goal was to make the forest headquarters a prime location for this special tree, emphasizing its accessibility to local communities and the fact that there will always be a forester to care for it.

wayne national forest moon tree
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Zahor even wore a nifty enamel NASA pin on her US Forest Service uniform collar for the occasion. She and her team carefully planted the moon tree next to a gazebo to ensure it will thrive for years to come.

“Ohio has a long and rich history of aerospace, including the Wright brothers and John Glenn, who called the state home,” Zahor said. “The Moon Tree connects two different areas that people would not think of as natural resources and natural wonders.”

Visitors are asked to respectfully admire this moon tree.

It’s protected with fencing and wire mesh to keep curious wildlife and maintenance workers from causing damage. And stay tuned for the dedication ceremony for this little spaceman – the date hasn’t been set yet, but it’s sure to be an event you won’t want to miss!

By the way, this sweetgum tree is not alone on its journey into space. Other lunar tree species include plane trees, Douglas firs, swamp pines and giant sequoias.

If you are curious about the history of Moon Trees, it all began with the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.

wayne national forest moon tree
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Command module pilot Stuart Roosa took about 400 to 500 seeds from various trees, including swamp pine, sweet gum, Douglas fir, redwood, and sycamore, on his trip to the moon. Roosa was a former US Forest Service wildfire fighter and served as a parachutist before becoming an astronaut. Now that’s quite a career!

Next time you’re in Wayne National Forest, be sure to stop by our Moon Tree and say hello. It’s a little reminder that with a little innovation and a lot of dedication, the sky’s the limit.

For more fascinating information about moon trees and their history, visit NASA’s moon tree page. Enjoy exploring!

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