Friday, February 25, 2011

Maple Pollen Photomicrography

Back when I was sorting out potential career paths, I seriously considered becoming a palynologist; that's why I was a biology major for a very short time, until becoming an English major and surprising next to nobody. Yes-- I considered dedicating vast portions of my mind to the study of pollen (and spores).

It still fascinates me, of course.

Some might wonder what good palynology is, or what kind of work a botanist that ridiculously specialized could find. It's actually quite important. Pollen is a crucial part of agriculture. Some aspects of the health of forests and other environments can be assessed through pollen samples. Archaeologists can find out what plants were cultivated or indigenous to an area by traces of pollen. Forensic scientists could solve a crime if pollen on an item of interest could be traced to a specific area. There are many other applications; archaeological palynology fascinated me the most.

Here is a blooming twig from a red maple tree (Acer rubrum). See the anthers? They're the little reddish things sticking out on the ends of the stamens. The pollen comes from inside the anthers. There's some yellowish pollen visible on the ones toward the bottom of the picture.This is some pollen magnified 40 times. On first glance, it looks much like the cedar pollen from my previous post. If I had an electron microscope, I'm sure there would be very obvious differences even in its basic appearance. However, one thing stood out almost immediately, that surprised me: the maple pollen, magnified 40 times, is about as big as the cedar pollen was, magnified 100 times. For some reason, I was expecting the maple pollen to be smaller; it doesn't bother me as much as cedar, so I hypothesized imaginatively that it was tiny and that cedar was big and malevolent. Of course, maple pollen isn't sticky the way cedar is-- that must have something to do with it.Here it is again, magnified 100 times. At this magnification, 19 cedar pollen grains fit in that circle of view with plenty of leftover space. That would be a tight squeeze, here.I'm not sure which pollen will come into season next-- but when it does, you'll find out what it looks like. ^_^

1 comment:

  1. Frankly, it does look the same as the cedar pollen.

    That said, I suspect smaller pollens are worse because they embed more deeply in smaller channels of one's lungs.