Monday, February 21, 2011

Cedar Pollen Photomicrography

Last spring, I brought you pictures of all the nice plants that begin to sprout in the woods near my house at this time of year. This spring, I bring you something a little more... sinister.

Starting today and ending in April or May, I will present photomicrographs of all the different types of pollen that clog the air in my corner of the world, as they make their appearances.

My chest imploded, this past weekend, or might as well have. I spent two days flopping around gasping like a fish trying to evolve. Today I've either gotten better or gotten used to it. I figured out pretty early on that there must be some pollen flying already. This week, Eastern Red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the culprit.

Here is what a branch looks like, up close. From a distance, the tree has gold highlights.I picked a sprig of cedar and made the second-worst wet mount slide I had ever made in my life. Then I made a nicer one. In my defense, it's been a few years since I did any actual work with a microscope, and longer since I used it for fun. Here's some of the pollen, without the cover-slip on yet. What I discovered immediately is that cedar pollen is unpleasantly sticky, with that same aromatic sap that is all over the tree itself. Whenever I climb that tree, I get black sap and little stringy strips of bark all over my hands, and it takes rubbing alcohol to get it off satisfactorily. I believe that this causes the pollen to adhere itself to the insides of my lungs. Here are some grains at 40 times their real size.Here are the globules again, at 100 times larger than life. Only 100 times. Isn't that morbidly fascinating? They're enormous. And sticky.There is a higher magnification on my microscope, but it's for oil immersion. Hopefully I'll get better at taking pictures, so they won't come out so blurry next time. Feel free to print these out to pin up and use as dartboards. You get more points for lower magnification, because it's smaller.

Random biology anecdote of the day: my lab instructor three years ago pronounced the word nucleus, nuculus. This should be a crime. I have nothing further to say on that subject.

That's all for today, my dears. Tune in next time for Maple Pollen Photomicrography.


  1. First, intersting post. Second, I rather like your descriptions. Genius, I might be coerced to say. Finally, though I currently view your photos in black and white, they look pretty good. Microscope photography (or microphotography, as the sophisticated among us would doubtless have me say) isn't a horribly easy thing to do. Regardless, kudos for the effort, and good job!


  2. Why, thank you, Noah. These pictures actually weren't that difficult to take-- I think I only spent about ten or fifteen minutes, making slides and photographing the pollen. The ones I did of maple pollen yesterday were much blurrier; I'll be posting them tomorrow, I think. I'm glad you enjoyed reading!