Early-Blooming “Space Cherry Tree” Amazes Both Scientists and Priests

Buddhist monks and scientists in Japan are baffled by a cherry tree, grown from seeds that took a ride in orbit, which bloomed six years earlier than expected.

The four-year-old sapling planted at Gifu Ganjoji temple in central Japan burst into bloom six years ahead of Mother Nature’s schedule. What’s more mystifying were its uncanny blossoms: the “space cherry’s” flowers have five petals each, compared to 30 petals on the blossoms of its parent tree.

Now standing 13 feet tall, the hybrid cherry tree grew from one of 265 seeds harvested from the celebrated “Chujo-hime-seigan-zakura” tree, which were sent into space in November 2008 as part of a project.

The cherry stone came back to Earth with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata in July after circling the globe aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Some of the seeds were sent for laboratory tests and the rest were planted at 14 different sites. Four of the saplings from space are currently blooming.

It normally takes about 10 years for a cherry tree to bloom its first buds.

Kaori Tomita-Yokotani, a researcher at the University of Tsukuba who took part in the project, said the rapid growth of the space cherry trees could have been “influence by its exposure to the space environment.”

She added that there was not enough data to support a more terrestrial possibility that the plant was a result of cross-pollination with another species.

“Of course, there is the possibility that exposure to stronger cosmic rays accelerated the process of sprouting and overall growth,” Tomita-Yokotani, a plant physiologist said.

“From a scientific point of view, we can only say we don’t know why.”

Buddhist monks at the ancient temple are bewildered. “We are amazed to see how fast it has grown,” chief priest Masahiro Kajita told AFP.

“A stone from the original tree had never sprouted before. We are very happy because it will succeed the old tree, which is said to be 1,250 years old.”

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “Nocturne” by halfrain/Flickr

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