Spring Narcissi and Pollen Germination

Chris Thomas, UK


Oh Joy! Winter had started to loosen its dank cool grip on East Anglia. A prolonged spell of warmer weather in March brought out the daffodils in their myriad forms even before the snowdrops had finished blooming. The first bumblebees had hardly emerged sleepily from their hibernation, but already a long legged figure could be seen flitting from Narcissus to Narcissus. Yes it was I, the dreaded anther-snatcher of Cambridge!


The most recent bee in my bonnet has been the germination of pollen on slides. The interest being that with some flower species this is easy and with others it is not. For reasons peculiar to the warped mind of an amateur microscopist, I had previously shown that germination of pollen was greatly enhanced on onion epidermis. Indeed, a fellow enthusiast, John Garrett, found the method worked well and gives an excellent description of the finer arts of the procedure in an earlier article. So whilst a flock of golden daffodils inspired one man to poetry, it inspired me to pollen collection.


Golden variety of garden narcissus with a trumpet as long as the outer petals.



Dwarf narcissi 'Tete a tete'


The narcissi were almost spared this treatment as I first tried the dwarf variety Tete a tete which bloomed early in our back garden. The pollen did not germinate well or at all on the three occasions tried. Many of the grains actually seemed empty, possibly sterile.



Poorly germinating pollen as found in pure golden large and dwarf narcissi (100x mag)

The fatal mistake was to try looking at a range of different narcissi in our garden. The large golden form behaved much like the dwarf versions, poor germination and many unexpanded grains.



However, the pollen from a white form and from a bicoloured flower germinated very efficiently as you can see below.

But was this a real result? Or was nature playing tricks with me? A larger sample was called for and many clumps of nodding narcissi beckoned invitingly on the cycle ride to and from work. A fear of righteous citizens, perhaps armed with leaded handbags or pointed umbrellas, did set a note of caution into my planning. Picking whole flowers to take home seemed too much like an act of vandalism!

White narcissus with trumpet as long as outer petals


Typical pollen germination with white or bicoloured flowers (100x mag)

Just picking an anther and leaving the flowers otherwise intact seemed a safer bet and so, armed with my trusty forceps, I meandered from flower clump to flower clump on my way home from work. It is a measure of the English inclination to permit harmless eccentricity without question, that my obvious activity drew only one polite enquiry from passers by!


Bicoloured flowers, trumpet shorter than petals, which showed good pollen germination

A large onion was sacrificed for its epidermis in the pursuit of higher knowledge rather than a more mundane culinary application. Three hours later I had my confirmation! Individual flowers from the same clump of plants behaved alike. Flowers from separate clumps appeared to germinate according to the above pattern - golden narcissi were poor pollen germinators whilst the white and bicolour forms tried had excellent pollen germination.

Why this might be, I do not know! Perhaps someone out there on the worldwide web does and could let me know? You can reach me by e-mail at Chris.

If you are interested in trying out pollen germination for yourself, John Garret gives an excellent demonstration in the earlier article. If you really get the bug then send your results to me at my e-mail address (see above) following the procedure on pollen2 - Chris. If we gather sufficient information, I will try to get the information published!

So what am I going to do now? Well, on the way into Cambridge I couldn't help noticing all those lovely cherry trees in bloom, pink, white, single or double flowered. I wonder how their pollen behaves?........


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