Scanning electron microscopes often takes us in unexplored and wild landscapes, natural or not. This one is not, in fact, natural, and it’s not a flower either. These are titanium dioxide nanowires. By “nano” it means that they are measured in the nanoworld of nanometers, the billionth of a meter, way beyond what our eyes can perceive. As in the famous question “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it makes a sound ?”, if something is so small as so to be invisible to the eye, is it even there ? With a scanning electron microscope, an electron beam, condenser lenses, deflectors plates, you can show that it is. There. In all its magnified glory.
A pollen sac opens on the “four o’clock flower” (Mirabilis jalapa). The image was recorded with a confocal microscope at magnification 100x, field width: 840 μm. Autofluorescence of the sample was recorded in 3 different channels (RGB, dye settings: DAPI [405nm], Acridine Orange [488nm] and Alexa Fluor 546 [543nm]).
This is a torchlily, also called red hot poker. It is in the Asphodeloideae subfamily of the Xanthorrhoeaceae family. Its scientific name is Kniphofia ‘flamenco,’ and it produces a large amount of nectar. This attracts hummingbirds, which pollinate the impressive flower.
There are around 30 wild species in the Gerbera genus, which most would recognize as daisies commonly sold as cut flowers. They come in a large variety of colors, and these are largely hybrids bred for looks, Gerbera hybridus. They are members of the Asteraceae family (which is a huge family, if you haven’t yet noticed). As you can see in this picture, the pollen comes from the central disc of the flower. This is actually a disc of many tiny flowers, called disc florets. The outer “petals” are ray florets.
The humpback whale is one of Earth’s largest creatures, with an average weight of around 40 tons. But as it turns out, this gigantic creature is vulnerable to the toxins of a much smaller living thing: Aconitum delphinifolium, better known as Larkspur monkshood.
Aconitum was on our list of 10 killer plants, and with good reason: it contains both neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. In China, some warriors recognized monkshood’s properties as a biological weapon, coating the tips of their arrows in the poison. But in Alaska, the Alutiiq discovered that Aconitum could take down something far larger than a human. Whaling was dangerous business, and Aconitum was a key part of an important hunting ritual. The whalers would mix the toxic flower with human fat — for its spiritual significance — and then apply the mixture to their spears. Even if the spears themselves didn’t kill the whales, the toxin would finish the job in just a few days. The dead whales would wash up on shore, and the villagers would be lousy with blubber.
The bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, is native to Eastern Asia. The Fumariaceae family is easily identified by their flowers, which have four petals. In this genus, Lamprocapnos, two of the petals, the larger ones, are spurred and form a pouch at the tip. The two smaller, inner petals are straight. The bleeding heart is also referred to as Venus’s car, Lady in a bath, Dutchman’s trousers and Lyre-flower.