THE MICROSCOPIC WORLD OF POLLEN
The hidden beauty of flowers: Microscopic images reveal the alien landscapes to be found on petals, pollen grains and leaves
- Images were taken by Eye of Science microscopy photographer Oliver Meckes and biologist Nicole Ottawa
- The pair took the shots using a high-resolution colour scanning electron microscope (SEM)
- They began by dehydrating small pieces of the plants before immersing them in 100% alcohol
- Later, the alcohol was replaced with carbon dioxide in a pressure chamber to complete the drying process
- Technique keeps the appearance of the sensitive surface of the plant intact, without which the cells would collapse
- After being mounted on an aluminium platelet, each specimen was coated in gold and photographed
Flowers in bloom are one of the great joys of spring, but when viewed under a colour scanning electron microscope (SEM), they reveal an even greater surreal, alien-like beauty.
From rose petals to arnica stigmas, and hibiscus stamens to pollen grains, a German photographer has captured the images with the help of a biologist from the German microscopy team at Eye of Science.
The process of preparing the flowers to be photographed takes days of meticulous drying and coating in order to capture the beauty without the samples disintegrating.
The images, including this shot of a rose petal, were taken by photographer Oliver Meckes and biologist Nicole Ottawa. The pair took the shots using a colour scanning electron microscope. Roses are ancient symbols of love. It is national flower of England, as well as the provincial flower of Alberta, Canada. In the 15th century, Henry VII introduced the Tudor rose - a red rose for the House of Lancaster and a white rose for the House of York - after civil wars that became known as the War of the Roses
‘Flowers are beautiful in "normal'" view, but when you look closer, some parts get very bizarre and unexpected structures appear - flowers within flowers, worlds within worlds,’ Meckes said.
For a decade the pair, based in Reutlingen in the south of Germany, worked with an SEM they saved from the scrapheap, but for the last five years they have used a £250,000 FEI Quanta Series Field Emission SEM.
The breathtaking shots show that these floral displays did not evolve to please our human senses, but instead serve the single purpose of attracting insects that will help pollinate the plant and allow it to reproduce.
To prepare the specimens, Meckes and Ottawa took small pieces of each flower petal or leaf and put them through a dehydration process, before immersing them in 100 per cent alcohol.
Meckes and Ottawa took small pieces of the flower petal or leaves and put them through a dehydration process, before immersing them in 100 per cent alcohol. This image shows the surface of a rapeseed flower petal that resembles the scaly skin of a lizard or snake. Rapeseed is a member of the same family as the mustard and cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Its oil was produced in the 19th century as lubricant for steam engines and, more recently, is used as diesel biofuel
The stigma of an arnica flower is pictured left, which reveals the top part of the female reproductive structure, known as the carpel. It resembles a spiky tongue. The anther of a flower of the small-leaved lime is pictured right. The anther is the part of the flower that collects the pollen from the stamen that produces it
Four lilac flower pollen grains pictured on a petal of the purple plant. The grains resemble a human brain and vary significantly to the bright red grains photgraphed on the coltsfoot, and the spiky grey grains of the arnica plant also captured by the Eye of Science microscopy team
Later, the alcohol was replaced with carbon dioxide in a pressure chamber to carry out what the team called the ‘critical-point’ step of the drying process.
This meticulous method has been designed to maintain the appearance of the the sensitive and delicately thin surface of each plant - without which, the cells would collapse and the flowers would disintegrate.
After being mounted on an aluminium platelet, each specimen was then coated in gold before being photographed.
In one image, a close up shot of a rose petal resembles rows of raspberries, while the surface of a rapeseed flower looks like the scaly skin of a lizard or snake.
This image shows pollen grains, shown in grey, on the yellow stigma of the arnica flower. Arnica is also known by the names Mountain Tobacco. The flowers contain a toxin called helenalin, which can be poisonous if ingested in large amounts and has been known to cause gastroenteritis. Touching the plant can also cause skin irritation. Its name is believed to come from the Greek arna, which means lamb because of the plants soft, hairy leaves
This shot taken of a rapeseed leaf, with the light hitting the specimen from behind, makes it appear like a section of coral deep under the sea. After being submerged in alcohol, the liquid was replaced with carbon dioxide in a pressure chamber to carry out the final step of the drying process. This meticulous process has been designed to maintain the appearance of the sensitive and delicately thin surface of each plant - without which, the cells would collapse
After being mounted on an aluminium platelet, each specimen was then coated in gold before being photographed. The left-hand image shows the bright red pollen of the coltsfoot flower, and resembles cod roe. The hibiscus flower is renowned for its bright red and pink petal, but its stamens, pictured right, look almost dull in comparison. Tiny, spiky pollen grains are attached to the curved tips. The surface resembles the skin of an elephant
Another shot taken of a rapeseed leaf, with the light hitting the specimen from behind, makes it appear like a section of coral deep under the sea.
In two of the images, Meckes and Ottawa capture pollen grains sat on the petals of arnica and lilac flowers. The arnica image resembles bacteria and its grey pollen grains look menacing with their sharp edges. By contrast, the pollen of the lilac is yellow and round and resembles the human brain.
The stigma of the same arnica specimen in a separate image looks like a spiky tongue.
Small yellow grains of pollen are scattered on the petal hairs of a marigold. The golden colour of the marigold gives the rubber gloves of the same colour its name. Potted marigold florets are edible and used to add colour to salads, or as a garnish. The flowers were used in ancient Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures as a medicinal herb as well as a dye for fabrics, foods and cosmetics
The image on the left shows the floret of a chamomile flower, while the right-hand image is of a valerian flower which resembles the face of a bug. The Valerian root is often used to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders. It was used in ancient Greece and Rome, and Hippocrates is thought to have been the first to link it to relieving insomnia. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia
By stark contrast, the pollen of the coltsfoot flower is shown as bright red, and resembles cod roe.
The pair have previously used their SEM to take artistic images of bacteria, parasites, and butterflies to herbs, water bears, plant poisons and silverfish.
‘Working in the microscopic dimensions has completely changed our view of the world,’ Meckes said.