SCIENCE NOTES: AUTUMN CHERRY BLOSSOM
These scanning electron microscope pictures show a tiny part of a flower from the autumn-flowering cherry tree. It’s one of the stamens: the small round shapes are pollen grains.
Pollen carries the reproductive cells (gametes) produced in the male parts of flowering plants. It may be annoying to those of us who suffer from hay fever and other allergic reactions to airbourne pollen, but it’s vital for many plants to spread pollen around so that the male cells will encounter female cells in the pistils of other plants.
There are many different types of pollen, and the size and shape of pollen grains varies a lot from plant to plant, so the microscopic analysis of pollen can be very useful in forensics and archaeology. This SEM image shows some of the weird and wonderful shapes of different pollens (the colours are artificial – SEM doesn’t do colour but the colour can be added later just for fun):
Source: Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bees and other insects eat pollen: for them it’s a vital food source. Lately some people have been selling bee pollen for human consumption. It probably won’t do you any harm (unless you’re allergic to it of course, in which case it might kill you) but there’s no scientific evidence that it will do you any good either, so I’m going to keep away from it.