A Remarkable sweetgum

Tree Information
Common Name: sweetgum
Scientific name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Category: Historic tree
Notes: Moon Trees Virginia has trees that have come from all over the world, but a sweetgum in Loudoun and a sycamore in Hampton put those trees to shame, when it comes to miles traveled. Both have been to the moonor almost to the moonand back. Both trees germinated from seeds carried to the moon by astronaut Stuart Roosa, who orbited the moon aboard Apollo 14, while Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell made the their historic third lunar touchdown in 1971. The seeds didnt go down to the surface, NASA representative David Gilman explained at a re-dedication of the Hampton moon tree in 2006, but they did get within a couple hundred miles of the surface, which is closer than you or I have ever gotten. When Roosa decided to take tree seeds with him on his mission, scientists were curious about the effects zero gravity, radiation, and other factors might have on the seeds viability. And, of course, visions of wacky mutations danced in some folks heads. There was, in fact, a scene that would have worked well in horror movie when the mission returned to earth and, during the decontamination process, the canister that held the moon tree seeds burst open, shooting the seeds out into the decontamination chamber. Evidently, however, no damage was done (to the seeds or to earthlings), and the 500 or so seeds taken on the mission-- seeds of loblolly pine, sycamore, sweet gum, redwood, and Douglas fir--were germinated by the Forest Service and distributed all over the U.S. and to some foreign countries. Oddly enough, though, no one kept track of exactly where the moon trees had been sent, and it wasnt until Dr. Dave Williams, planetary scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, began trying to track the trees down, thirty years later, that a master list of moon tree locations was generated. Approximately hundreds of moon tree seedlings were distributed in 1976 (many of them as part of bicentennial celebrations), but Williams, who now maintains NASAs moon tree website, has located only 60 of them, and some of those are dead. Missing is the tree given to the Emperor of Japan and dead is the tree planted at the White House but alive and well are two of the moon trees known to have been planted in Virginia. One is a sweetgum near Hamilton in Loudoun County. According to R. Max Peterson, former chief of the U. S. Forest Service, that sweetgum wasnt considered healthy enough to be distributed the way the other moon trees were. The guy handling the program for the Forest Service had one that was a pretty weak looking treenot good enough to send to one of the states, so I just took it and planted it and it took off. Peterson says he gave the tree little care other than cutting back other trees near it and protecting it from deer (he drove a 2 x 2 down beside it to keep them from rubbing their antlers on it), and it is now about 40 feet tall. The farmland that surrounds the tree is slated to become athletic fields, but Peterson says the current owner of the property has promised to protect the moon tree.
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Nominator: Max Peterson
Location of Tree
County/City: Loudoun
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