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July 15, 2019

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After a century, a blooming miracle

Grown from a lotus seed that had been dormant underground for more than 100 years, a lotus flower bloomed at the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, in Beijing this week.

The blooming lotus has attracted visitors and photographers to appreciate the beauty from the past and celebrate its miraculous rebirth.

In 2017, 11 lotus seeds were discovered at a pond in Yuanmingyuan during an archeological dig. These lotus seeds have been underground for more than 100 years, according to archeologists’ preliminary estimation.

Li Xiangyang, deputy director of the administrative office of Yuanmingyuan, said it was the first time that ancient lotus seeds have been discovered since archeological excavation work began in Yuanmingyuan and they will provide the reference for research on Yuanmingyuan’s culture and history.

In order to identify the exact age of the ancient lotus seed, staff sent three of them to Peking University for carbon-14 testing. A further eight lotus seeds were transferred to a research team in the Institute of Botany under the Chinese Academy of Sciences for cultivation experiment in 2018. Six lotus seeds successfully sprouted, grew leaves and took root after cultivation in the lab.

According to Zhang Huijin from the institute, the ancient lotus seeds have been hibernating because they were buried in peat soil with low temperature, low humidity and little microbial interference. Besides, the hard shell outside helped prevent water and air from going in and out.

“Although we have woken up its growth, we still face difficulties in cultivation as ancient lotus had a slower growth rate and late flowering time. Besides, they cannot grow well in the pot,” Zhang said.

In April, researchers decided to transplant four of them to the lotus pool in Yuanmingyuan for a natural growing environment. Staff in Yuanmingyuan designated four pools for the cultivation of the lotus.

“We didn’t expect the lotus to grow so well after they left the greenhouse and came back to Yuanmingyuan,” said Zhao Aimei, an employee in Yuanmingyuan.

Zhang said besides the ancient lotus in Yuanmingyuan, the institute had successfully cultivated ancient lotus unearthed in other cities including Dalian in Liaoning Province and Kaifeng in Henan Province. The oldest could date back 1,000 years. The cultivation of ancient lotus will also shed new light on the molecular mechanism and bionics of lotus.


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