Friday, October 23, 2009

Saving the "Moon Tree"

Staff from the Independence National Historical Park are worried that the "Bicentennial moon tree," planted in Washington Square from seeds carried to the moon, may not last through the winter.

I've always been intrigued by this tree (and monument), a remnant of the Bicentennial celebrations of 1975-76.

Apparently, Philly was just one of many recipients of a moon tree, all planted from a single batch of 400 seeds that accompanied NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa on a mission in 1971. NASA does not have an official list of all the moon trees, but you can find a running list here. NASA also has a page about our Washington Square moon tree, including a flyer, newspaper clipping, and photos from the 1975 dedication.

But as the Daily News reported yesterday, Philly's tree is in rough shape.

The National Park Service is hoping to save at least a part of the tree, by taking about 20 cuttings from the tree for cloning.

So is a cloned moon tree as authentic as the original, or is it a replica of an original? How do you draw the line between original artifacts and copies when dealing with living organisms?

According to this Cornell site for kids (about my level of biology expertise), trees can be cloned either by grafting a cutting from the parent tree onto another tree's rootstock, or by encouraging the cutting to grow its own roots. That sounds like the cloned tree would be an authentic stand-in for the original, rather than a replica. The cutting from the original tree simply continues to grow until it becomes tree-sized.

If only non-living objects or the built environment could regenerate themselves if they became harmed.

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