A tree grown from a cherry pit that traveled in space five years ago with astronaut Koichi Wakata, now commander of the International Space Station, has bloomed far ahead of what is normal, to the astonishment of botanists.
Cherry trees typically take about a decade from the time they sprout from seeds to bloom.
The cherry pit was one of around 265 produced from the fruit of the famous 1,250-year-old “Chujohimeseigan-zakura” cherry tree grown in the compound of the Ganjoji temple here, which traces its roots to the seventh century.
In the "space cherry" project organized by Tokyo-based Japan Manned Space Systems Corp., the space-going pits were rocketed to the International Space Station in 2008, and returned to Earth in July 2009 with Wakata, now 50.
The original Chujohimeseigan-zakura tree is a variant of the “yamazakura” wild cherry species, and until now, attempts to grow young trees from its fruit have been unsuccessful.
Botanist Takao Yoshimura, 78, successfully sprouted one of the pits that traveled to the ISS using a method in which he covered the soil with sphagnum moss.
In four years, the young plant has grown to a height of about 4 meters. This spring, it produced about 10 buds, which all were in bloom by April 4.