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Cherry Trees That Flew To Space Bloom Six Years Early and the Flowers Are Different from Earth Flowers

Spring blooms  Cherry blossoms in Japan, from trees whose seeds weren't taken into space. Image credit: 208236 / YouTube.

Spring blooms
Cherry blossoms in Japan, from trees whose seeds weren’t taken into space.
Image credit: 208236 / YouTube.

In 2008-2009, during their stay at the International Space Station, Japanese astronauts carried hundreds of cherry tree seeds there. After the trip, such seeds were planted in several places all over the country.

Among the seeds taken to the International Space Station, more than 265 seeds were collected from the thousand-year-old tree near a Buddhist temple in the Central Japan’s Gifu County. One of the space seeds was sprouted outside the temple. However surprisingly, it grew more rapidly than other cherry trees of the same kind which were not sent to space.

With the four-year history of planting, the tree is now blooming, which is six years earlier than its normal routine. Masahiro Kajita, chief priest at the Ganjoji temple says that it is amazing to see how quickly it has shot up. The seeds were planted at fourteen different places, of which blooms have remarkably noticed in four locations.

Compared with their parent trees having 30 petals in their flowers, those flowers from the Ganjoji “space tree” are different, only containing five petals.

Such precocious seeds have confused the Buddhist monks as well as scientists. Miho Tomioka, a spokeswoman for the project’s organizer, Japan Manned Space Systems (JAMSS) says that in its primal sense, the project was mainly an educational and cultural project rather than a scientific one. The purpose of the project aims to allow children to gather the stones and be aware how these seeds grow into trees and live on after being taken back from space. For such reason no “control” seeds were planted to make comparison with those space-flown ones–although this cherry variety could usually bloom when they are ten years old.

Why early flowering occurs is still mysterious. From the guess made by Tomita-Yokotani, plant physiologist at the University of Tsukuba and one of participators in the project, it could be attributed to exposure to much stronger cosmic rays accelerating the process of sprouting and overall growth. As for more specific reason, it needs to work harder to find out why early flowering happens from a scientific point of view.

Source: Popular Science.