Enjoying Spring in close-up.

by Dave Walker, UK

The plants and flowers we often take for granted take on a whole new perspective if their colours, textures and shapes are enjoyed at a larger scale. Just getting closer to inspect by eye can reveal some detail, but more can be seen by using a 10X hand lens or studying subjects under the microscope.

A few common garden and wild Spring flowers in the UK are examined here a little more closely.

Daffodils

The cultivated varieties of daffodil are one of the most common garden flowers in Spring. There is a wild species in the UK (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) but it's not common and shouldn't be picked. The 'wild' daffodils in my area (shown above) are in fact garden escapes. The garden daffodil is worth inspecting more closely and the large flowers make it easy to handle for study.
The end of the central female stigma is three-lobed and is easily seen with a hand lens (the tip is shown right).

Tiny specks of pollen may have been transferred from the ripe male stamens surrounding the stigma. Studying temporary mounts of pollen is very easy; just tap a flower with ripe stamens over a slide to dislodge some pollen and cover with a cover slip. Daffodil pollen under dark field illumination using a home made patch stop is shown below.

 

Cutting the green bulbous area immediately behind the flower reveals the ovary with unripe seeds and is quite attractive under a 10X hand lens (shown left).

 

 

 


Daffodil pollen. 9X objective.


Lesser celandine pollen. 20X objective.


Lesser celandine

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is a common wild flower in the UK (shown right) and is a member of the Buttercup Family. This has a very vivid yellow pollen and is shown above with darkfield illumination. It's worth comparing the shapes and surface features of flower pollen using temporary mounts, or build up a slide collection of permanent pollen mounts. Common names for wild flowers can be confusing (although the author has never got to grips with their Latin names), as the Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus) in the UK is a totally unrelated plant in the Poppy Family!

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an attractive yellow wildflower of early Spring and is a member of the Compositae ('Daisy') Family as the 'flower' head is made up of many tiny flowers called florets. I've passed this flower many times, but it's only when I looked at one with a 10X hand lens that I noticed it had tiny glandular hairs on the stem and the sepals behind the flowerhead. Incident lighting with a 3.5X objective on the compound microscope shows them in more detail. It's worth stopping to examine the hairs of leafs and stems, they can reveal hidden secrets such as hooks, glands, forked ends etc.


A 10X hand lens shows the hairs on a coltsfoot stem above, but the microscope (3.5X objective) reveals them more clearly (right).

Non-flowering plants

Although wild flowers tend to attract the eye, there are many delightful plants worth studying that don't flower, notably the mosses, liverworts, ferns and horsetails. The new fern fronds for example as they uncurl in Spring look rather curious (shown right) and the scales are well worth studying. Not to mention the fungi, moulds, algae and mosses growing on the dry stone wall behind! Some of the fascinations of these plants have been covered in previous Micscape articles. (Some are linked above or visit the Library and type in appropriate keywords using the Search engine).

So next time you are on a local country walk or even just in the garden, take a closer look at the flowers and plants you may have taken for granted, they may reveal some surprising hidden secrets!

Comments to the author Comments to the author sent via our contacts page quoting page url plus : ('dwalker','')">Dave Walker welcomed.

Picture details.

Outdoor images: Fuji DX-10 digital camera.

Indoor macro: Panasonic CL-350 video camera (420 line resolution) with Nikon 50mm SLR lens + SLR camera extension tubes attached via adaptor.

Microscopy: Panasonic video camera on Russian Biolam microscope using Russian achromatic objectives with no eyepiece.

Editor's note: If you would like to share some pictures of the fauna and flora of your area whether just in close-up or on the macro or microscopic scale, please contact us (link to Editor below).

Visit Gary Baird's and Dave Walker's nature walks, where the countryside in close-up in their areas (Carthage, Missouri, USA and the Southern Pennines, West Yorkshire, England respectively) are explored.

 

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Published in the April 1999 edition of Micscape Magazine.

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