© South China Morning Post
The cherry pips on board the space station.
Tokyo - A cosmic mystery is uniting monks and scientists in Japan after a tree grown from a cherry stone that orbited the Earth for eight months bloomed years earlier than expected -- and with very surprising flowers.
The four-year-old sapling -- grown from a cherry pit that spent time onboard the International Space Station (ISS) -- burst into blossom on April 1, possibly a full six years ahead of Mother Nature's normal schedule.
Its early blooming turned on its head the received wisdom of the Buddhist brothers at the ancient temple in central Japan where the tree is growing. "We are amazed to see how fast it has grown," Masahiro Kajita, chief priest at the Ganjoji temple in Gifu, told AFP by telephone.
"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."
The wonder pip was among 265 harvested from the celebrated Chujo-hime-seigan-zakura
tree, selected as part of a project to gather seeds from different kinds of cherry trees at 14 locations across Japan.
The stones were sent to the ISS in November 2008 and came back to Earth in July the following year with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata after circling the globe 4,100 times.