Japanese Cherry Pits Bloom Ahead of Schedule After Voyage into Space

| by Allison Geller

Outer space has a strange effect on cherry trees, an experiment is finding. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took a cherry pit into space five years ago, and now, scientists are baffled by its behavior.

Wakata, now commander of the International Space Station, took pits from one of the famous 1,240-year-old “Chujohimeseigan-zakura” cherry trees grown in the Ganjoji temple in the seventh century on a space mission five years ago.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that while cherry trees usually take about a decade to bloom, this one has bloomed in half that time, leaving botanists scratching their heads — particularly since previous attempts to grow trees from the wild cherry pits have been unsuccessful.

78-year-old botanist Takao Yoshimura was able to sprout one of the pits after it returned from its interstellar voyage, using a method of covering the soil with sphagnum moss.

While the parent tree bore flowers of 30 petals, the “space cherry” flowers have only five.

Experts are tossing around theories about the unexpected results of the space cherry project.

“As it is grown from a seed, the young plant might have reverted back to have the characteristics of original yamazakura species,” Yoshimura said.

But botanist Kaori Tomita, a 56-year-old lecturer at University of Tsukuba professor and participant in the project, said there’s no explanation found in science.

“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,” she said.

Sources: The Asahi Shimbun