Vehicular Pollination

A cold winter and a short spring have left a short window for many species of trees and plants to release wind-borne pollen – so they are doing it all at once. It’s an adaptation for them, and we have to adapt. Part of that adaptation, I suppose, is that all of our vehicles are now purveyors of pollen.

I washed the first batch of pollen off my car less than 48 hours before the image here was taken, and my grey car is already completely yellow again. Pollen. Some types of pollen have a remarkable ability to fold in upon themselves for their flight, allowing them to retain moisture, and then unfold upon arrival in a hospitable destination, ready to reproduce. My guess is that the folding pollen types remain folded on the hot roof of my car, waiting for a better home.

folding pollen, springtime, hayfever

A variety of pollen grains in different stages of folding
Image via ScienceFriday / Slow Muse

This isn’t the first year I’ve seen all the cars turned the same golden color, but it might be one of the most intense. And of course, it’s not just the vehicles. It’s on every possible surface. But then, I don’t generally suffer from hayfever – otherwise, my concerns would be elsewhere.

How many different species of vegetation are represented on the top of my car?

pollen bomb, pollination, trees, adaptation

Pollen horizon: A golden blanket of pollen atop my car.
Photo: PKR

If their pollination season is usually spread over several weeks, and they’ve all released at the same time, what impact does that have on the various animals or plants that interact with them according to a seasonal schedule that has been drastically accelerated?

These are the questions I ask myself as I look out over the dusty hood of my car. Meanwhile, if you are in an area where pollen is carpeting everything, here’s a good article on how to keep those fertile little motes from damaging the paint on your vehicle.



Midden Archive

There are so many different lenses we can use to view and understand the past. History books and rock paintings, ice cores and rock strata. What kind of scroll you need depends on the kind of past under investigation.

Scrolls Source: Donna Watson / Layers

Source: Donna Watson / Layers

And so to the useful archive provided by the rock hyrax (Procavia capensi) of southern Africa, a small mammal that has a couple of pertinent habits when it comes to creating a long-term set of reference material.

Hyrax colonies tend to stay in one place over millennia. They also tend to use a communal urinary, which also tends to stay in the same location. Further, hyrax urine is thick and dries quickly, and together with the fecal pellets, contains traces of hyrax life – pollen, bits of leaves, trapped gas bubbles. Over the years the hyrax midden becomes a long, multi-layered chronicle of hyrax life from the vantage point of what generations of hyrax left behind.

Bamboo scroll Source: Donna Watson / Layers

Bamboo scroll
Source: Donna Watson / Layers

The HYRAX Project uses midden archives to look at climate and vegetation change over a period of 50,000 years. It’s not the first midden study, of course, but in an area as arid as southern Africa, the challenges for finding a paleoenvironmental tool are higher than in area with lakes and wetlands, which are rife with sediment traps.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of finding the right archive for the subject at hand, and then knowing how to read it.

Rock hyraxes, Tanzania Photo: Frederico Veronesi

Rock hyraxes, Tanzania
Photo: Frederico Veronesi


Pollen Architecture

A variety of pollen grains in different stages of folding Image via ScienceFriday / Slow Muse

A variety of pollen grains in different stages of folding
Image via ScienceFriday / Slow Muse

Pollen grains – not all of them, but some of them – have specific architecture which allows them to seal in upon themselves to maintain enough internal moisture to remain intact over distance. Upon arrival, the grain unfolds again, and is ready to reproduce.

We are having a bit of the summer pollen blues at our place this week, and I found this nifty image and short film on how pollen travels without drying out before it reaches its destination.

The paper on pollen folding was published a couple of years ago, but the images and the film provide a beautiful insight into a process that we might otherwise simply find a nuisance.

Pollen Origami:


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study (2010) – Foldable structures and the natural design of pollen grains by E. Katifori, S. Alben E. Cerda, D.R. Nelson, J. Dumais

Film – Pollen Origami, Science Friday