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Foldscope Explores... The Secrets of the Seeds

I noticed a tuft of grass growing near the front of my house. The plant had purple fluffy seed heads that I wanted to look at under my Foldscope 2.0! Read on to find out what I saw!

Figure 1. Picture of a buffelgrass plant
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Buffelgrass (Cenchrusciliaris)

This particular species of grass is called buffelgrass. It is native to parts of Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Buffelgrass is a drought tolerant plant with deep roots and fluffy seeds that can be dispersed by wind, water, or contact with animals.

The seeds are what caught my attention. I cut off a cluster of seed heads, dissected them, put them on glass slides, and covered them with glass coverslips. Then I was ready to view them in my Foldscope 2.0.

Figure 2. Picture of buffelgrass seed heads and glass slides
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Seed Kernel

The individual seed heads are called burrs or fascicles. The seed kernel is an oval shaped structure in the center of the burr. It is too thick and opaque to see much detail with brightfield lighting, but this is where reflective lighting can help! The light from the LED light module reflects around the object and hits it from the top allowing me to see the smooth surface of the seed coat.

Figure 3. Picture of a buffelgrass seed kernel viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 50X magnification with reflective lighting
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Seed Bristles

The bristles of the buffelgrass resemble feathers. They are light and fluffy making them perfect for being carried long distances by the wind. This is the main way that buffelgrass seeds are spread.  However, the seeds are also capable of being spread by animals. This mechanism is best seen on the microscopic level. When I look at them under my Foldscope, I can see the little barbs that hook onto animal fur or people’s clothing as they walk past the plant.

Figure 4. Picture of buffelgrass seed bristles viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 140X magnification
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

It is always fun to see how a microscopic structure can determine function on a macroscopic scale. And I love how a Foldscope can be used to reveal the hidden secrets of nature.

Figure 5. Picture of buffelgrass seeds viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 50X magnification with reflective lighting
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Have you looked at seeds under a Foldscope 2.0? Use your Foldscope to dive into the microscopic world and uncover the secrets that are waiting for you. Share your microscopic images and thoughts on the Microcosmos. Be sure to tag us on social media when you post the results of your explorations, creations, and discoveries! We love to see how Foldscopers around the world are using their Foldscopes in new and innovative ways!

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