POLLEN COUNTS

Cosmos - - Gallery - GALLERY WORDS BY PAUL BIEGLER / CU­RA­TION BY SAHM KEILY

IT LIT­ER­ALLY GETS UP the nose of mil­lions of hay fever suf­fer­ers, mak­ing pollen a dis­tinctly un­pop­u­lar mem­ber of the flo­ral world. But there are many rea­sons to love these gos­samer grains. Pollen func­tions as plant sperm; if bees didn’t ship it to the flower’s ovules many of our favourite crops would van­ish, in­clud­ing ap­ples, straw­ber­ries and al­monds. A cri­sis, how­ever, is loom­ing: bee pop­u­la­tions are plum­met­ing, with one bum­ble­bee species de­clared en­dan­gered this year, prompt­ing Europe to con­sider a ban on pes­ti­cides that harm bees. Amid fears pol­li­na­tion- de­pen­dent crops could be wiped out, Ja­panese sci­en­tists have in­vented a pol­li­nat­ing drone. Then there is pollen’s in­de­struc­table shell, which is made from sporopol­lenin. Pollen pre­served for up to 320 mil­lion years has told us where crops once grew and how the cli­mate has changed. These days pollen also helps to solve crimes, with foren­sic botanists us­ing it to con­nect bod­ies to sus­pects. When it comes to pollen, it might be time for a lit­tle more r.e. s. p.e.c.t.

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