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Stunning Spacey Saintpaulia

StarBase 118 Staff

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Scientists have done various studies since the very beginning of the Space Program. Experiments that have dealt with everything from fundamental physics to climate have been conducted. Because the normal rules just don’t apply in space, results from these numerous studies can come out radically different than if they were performed on Earth.

Some of these studies have involved plants. It was noted that when a particularly aromatic miniature rose was sent into space, it produced a lovely scent that was quite different from what it would have had it been on Earth.

Roses are not the only plant to have visited the great beyond. My particular favourite species, the Saintpaulia (commonly known as the African Violet), has also made a trip. Optimara, a company that specialises in African Violet growth and hybridization, sent seeds out into Space in 1984. The plan was to test the long-term effect that cosmic radiation and lack of gravity had on the seeds. Originally, the seeds were meant to stay in Space for a year. Unfortunately, a year turned into six as various delays disrupted plans. The seeds were finally retrieved in 1990 by the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

So what happened? When the seeds were allowed to germinate, several characteristics that had not been previously seen in any violet varieties emerged. Leaves had more ruffled, scalloped, or curled edges and it wasn’t uncommon to find more than one flower per stem as opposed to the usual single bloom. The plants themselves grew thirty to fifty percent larger than traditional violet varieties and were found to be hardier and more durable as well.

Perhaps the best thing about this experiment is that Optimara developed a line of Violets that were bred from these seeds. As families of varities are often given similar names, these plants can be found under the ‘Everfloris’ nomen. Often referred to as “Space Violets”, these varieties are available for purchase by any plant lover and come in a variety of hues. Various nurseries carry them, but they’re also available for purchase straight from Optimara. So if you want a piece of space, so to speak, head on over – and if you want to order one for me too, I’ll not complain!

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