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Peony Seeds to Be Launched with Shenzhou IV Spacecraft
"Shenzhou IV", China's fourth unmanned spacecraft, will soon be launched. In addition to a variety of expensive instruments for experiments, the spaceship will also take on a group of special "guests"--100 peony seeds. This batch of peony seeds has already been sent to the launch site to "await orders." This is the first time for China to conduct variation tests on peony seeds under a state of weightlessness.

According to Jin Zhiwei, head of the Peony Production and Administrative Office of Luoyang City, in central China's Henan Province, the cultivation of new varieties of peony generally depends on natural selection. The emerging probability of superior varieties of peonies is very slim with a success rate of just one ten-thousandth because the living environment for natural hybrid seeds is very similar and the color and shape of their flowers are also very alike. It is estimated that great variations will occur in quite a number of seeds once they are placed in a zero gravity space environment and subject to the effects of heavy particles. "Although the variations may be either good or bad, it may be possible to cultivate some superior varieties," said Jin Zhiwei.

According to previous experiments in space seed cultivation, the corolla of flowers grown from seeds once taken into the space may reach five to six times their usual size and the plants can also attain three or four times their natural height. "Nobody can accurately predict what will happen to these peony seeds in space. Maybe the peony will be larger and more brilliant in color; maybe they will change into something nondescript, nothing like peony. Maybe we will even be able to cultivate washbasin-sized peony," optimistically predicted a manager whose company is taking part in the space peony cultivation experiment.

It is reported Luoyang will conduct a second test on space peony cultivation next September. About 10,000 to 15,000 peony seeds will be sent to space at that time.

Jin Zhiwei said that sending peony seeds into space is part of the "peony strategy" of Luoyang--the Peony City.

(China.org.cn by Wang Qian, December 18, 2002)

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