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Cherry trees in space: Faster-growing and fewer-petalled than those on earth

How do you baffle a botanist?

Ship a cherry pit into space and watch it bloom twice as quickly when it returns to Earth.

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By Dessa Bayrock (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: April 9, 2014

It took scientists four years to coax space cherry blossoms to grow — half the time they expected. (Illustration by Anthony Biondi)

How do you baffle a botanist?

Ship a cherry pit into space and watch it bloom twice as quickly when it returns to Earth.

As part of the “space cherry” project spearheaded by Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation, 265 cherry pits were shipped to the International Space Station for use in experimentation.

When the pits returned to the planet’s surface, botanist Takao Yoshimura coaxed one of the space seeds to sprout, grow, and bloom in a little under four years — progress that would take a decade to accomplish under normal circumstances.

“There is a theoretical possibility that the cosmic environment has had a certain impact on agents in the seeds that control budding and the growth process, but we have absolutely no answer as to why the trees have come into bloom so fast,” Botanist Kaori Tomita, one of the participants in the project, told The Asahi Shimbun.

Aside from the speed with which the tree grew and bloomed, another interesting development was that the blossoms had only five petals — in contrast to the parent tree’s thirty-petalled flowers.

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