Why is knowing something about pollen helpful?
Did you know pollen samples are being taken continuously around the world? This includes both fresh pollen as well as fossil pollen, the best preserved plant remains in sediments and sedimentary rocks.
Can you make a list of careers in which working with pollen is part of the job?
Resources for learning more about pollen biology and pollen technology are featured here. Besides links to images, tools, datasets, background information, and pollen sites around the world, several new pollen based activities are provided for open educational use.
Activities for Getting Started
- Collect a sample from a flowering plant in the classroom
What part of the flower would you collect from? How would you know if you have pollen? Did you know that cones also release pollen?
- Check out a bee pollen sample
You can actually buy pollen at a health food store
- Try out the windshield of a car, a window sill, your own hair...
See a spore trap design from 1873
See a mechanical spore trap
Design your own pollen trap
- What shape and size trap do you need?
- What materials will you use?
Tape, baggies, paper envelopes, brushes, etc?
- Where will you put your trap?
On the ground, near a lake, on top of a building, etc?
Exploring pollen with a microscope
Build models of several pollens in scale with each other
- Focus on shape, size, and surface differences such as pores or grooves to distinguish one pollen from another.
- Learn to measure pollen diameters for size
- Make scale bars for your sketches
- Determine size ranges for different pollens
- Capture images with a scale bar
- Use modeling clay, playdoh, other materials
- Display pollen models by source, size, shape, or presence of furrows, pores or other surface features.
- Capture images of your models for future projects
Design field trips to collect pollen
- Choose at least two local areas with different pollen producing plants such as flowering plants and conifers.
- Make an image resource of local pollens
- Compare an unknown pollen sample (from an unspecified location) to your resource library of pollen samples you collected
Create your own pollen calendar
- Visit the same location at two different times (two weeks will make a difference)
- Make an image resource of pollens for each of the two dates
- calculate a frequency value for each kind of pollen(how often one pollen type was found compared to others in a sample)
- Identify the likely time an unknown sample of pollen was collected at your site
Identify plants from their pollen
Sharing your data
- Collect pollen from the anther of a plant you are familiar with such as dandelions, pine trees, or corn
- Get help from a local pollen expert
- Pollen images and keys are available online for common plants in many areas
- Consider summarizing your data in a table, graph, or figure
- Learn to post pollen data online
- Upload images
- Develop a podcast to share
Resources on Forensics and Pollen:
- Searchable data base of pollen images
PalDat: Palynological Database in Austria
The Newcastle Pollen Collection
Bee Visit is an interactive version of a pollen transfer model originally described by Thomson and Thomson. You can use it to evaluate the contributions of different pollinators to a plant. The program lets you choose if pollen is released slowly over time or all at once. You can then create up to three types of "bees" that are then allowed to
visit the plant. You decide the number and type of visits. When you run the program, you can see how much pollen each "bee" delivers to plants of the same type versus to other plants. You can also see how much pollen arrived alive (quick trips) versus dead (slow trips).
Forensic Palynology: A New Way to Catch Crooks
Real cases where pollen is key to solving a crime or authenticating an object, ie. is this imported rug from Iran or China?
Crime Scene Botany
Plants or parts of plants can provide significant supporting, sometimes, crucial evidence in solving crimes.
The reasons for this are several: 1) plant remains can be found almost everywhere; 2) they offer multiple sources of evidence, both macroscopic and microscopic, such as pieces of wood, (even as charcoal), seeds, fruits, leaves, twigs, plant hairs, microscopic air-borne pollen and spores, or in aquatic environments, algal cells; 3) their morphological diversity allows us to identify them and from the identification gather other useful information such as the season or geographical location in which a crime took place, whether a body has been moved following a murder; if a body is buried, how long it has been buried, and whether a suspect was present at the crime scene. Pollen and spores, in particular, have all the useful characters just mentioned. Being widespread in nature in the air and on most surfaces, we breathe them into our lungs and they stick to our clothes.
Pollen and spore exines are amazingly diverse, sometimes even to the species level, and their production is generally seasonally and often geographically restricted, thus their presence can point to a specific season, sometimes even a specific location, in which a crime was committed (Szibor, R. et al. 1998).
The Green Revolution: Botanical Contributions to Forensics and Drug Enforcement
Molecular methods can be used to identify a plant species from minute leaf fragments and pollen grains. Forensic botanists have used DNA technology because often botanical trace evidence does not contain the necessary morphological or histological features that would allow one to identify a plant at the genus or species level. This is particularly true for fragmented and deteriorated plant material. The Bode Technology Group, Inc. (Dr Robert Bever; Springfield, VA, USA) is developing and using molecular methods to analyze botanical trace evidence (2,3).
Forensic Palynology in the United States
Authors, Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr. and Dallas C. Mildenhall, offer a good overview of pollen forensics techniques and evidence.
Interview with Lynne Milne, a palynologist at the Department of Geography at the University of Western Australia.
Wildlife forensic scientists