THE Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is on the hunt for sycamore trees which have been to the moon and back, or rather the seed from which they germinated did the 768,000 km round trip exactly one half-century ago.

It all dates back to 1971 when the NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds from a selection of different trees including sycamore on his mission around the moon on Apollo 14. Most seeds were subsequently germinated in the United States, but some were taken and planted elsewhere including in Brazil, Japan and Switzerland. The RAS now says it is possible that some were brought to Britain and germinated here, and, if so, it would now like to take cuttings for regeneration.

The interest of Professor Steve Miller, RAS vice president, who is orchestrating the search, was sparked after he asked BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time what the society could plant to mark its 200th anniversary. And to which panellist and gardener Christine Walden suggested tracking down the so-called ‘moon trees’ after she heard that 15 had been brought into Britain.

READ MORE: Wykeham nursery closure ‘risks wider damage’, union warns

The selection of seeds carried on Apollo 14 comprised loblolly pine, sweet gum, redwood and Douglas fir as well as sycamore. Tracing the chain of evidence is clearly very difficult and of course there is a good possibility that the rumours are untrue. According to Steve Miller, neither Kew Gardens in London nor the arboretum at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, obvious UK destinations for such unique and precious seeds, has any records of the seeds.

So far, Steve Miller has been able to track down a ‘half-moon sycamore tree’ created from a cutting taken from one of the moon trees that was planted in the United States. The half-moon tree is growing in a private garden in the village of Flamstead, in the Chiltern Hills to the north of London. The RAS has been promised a cutting from this tree for its bicentenary. However, Steve Miller is still hopeful of locating ‘full-moon trees’ and this is why he is appealing to the public for help.

Provided the seeds were planted soon after their return to Earth, the resulting trees would currently be aged just over 50 years old. That’s providing the moonshot did not interfere with sycamore seed’s normal dormancy patterns while introducing a whole new dimension for trees.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.