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George Wang

Project Topic / Abstract:

“Aerodynamics of saccate pollen and its implications for wind pollination”

The pollen grains of many anemophilious gymnosperms have one to three air-filled sacci, which have been thought to add surface area, yet add minimal weight, thereby increasing dispersal distance. However, no published studies have tested this hypothesis. Using the saccate pollen grains of three extant conifers (Pinus, Falcatifolium, Dacrydium), electron microscopy, and mathematical modeling, a computational model has been developed to study pollen flight. The model uses structural characters of pollen grains to calculate terminal settling velocity. Examples of characters utilized in the model include: lengths, widths, and depths of the main body and sacci; angle of saccus rotation; thicknesses of the saccus wall, endoreticulations, intine, and exine; and surface ornamentation. Settling speeds predicted by the model have been compared and validated with terminal settling velocity data obtained by other methods, such as stroboscopic photography. Modeling pollen both with and without sacci indicates that sacci can increase dispersal range. The model affords the opportunity to study pollen flight in three dimensions while controlling factors such as temperature and wind speed. The advantage of a mathematical model that is based on structural characters is that flight properties can be measured without physically testing pollen, providing the opportunity to model flight dynamics of fossil pollen. Examples of several fossils will be described, including non-saccate, mono-saccate, and bi-saccate pollen types. Although some studies of extant conifers indicate that sacci have a buoyancy function once grains reach a pollination drop, the present study provides the opportunity to further evaluate the adaptive significance of saccate pollen by correlating structural and aerodynamic features.


  • Schwendemann, A. B., G. Wang, M. L. Mertz, R. T. McWilliams, S. L. Thatcher, and J. M. Osborn. 2007. Aerodynamics of saccate pollen and its implications for wind pollination. American Journal of Botany 94: 1371-1381. Article (PDF)



  • European Conference for Mathematical and Theoretical Biology – Society for Mathematical Biology (Dresden, Germany)
  • Botany 2005 – Annual Meeting of the Botanical Society of American and four other professional societies (Austin, TX).  View Abstract
  • National Conference on Undergraduate Research (Lexington, VA).
  • Truman Student Research Conference (Kirksville, MO) View Abstract


  • Botany 2006 – Annual Meeting of the Botanical Society of America, and four other plant biological societies (Chico, CA).  View Abstract
  • Truman Student Research Conference (Kirksville, MO)  View Abstract


  • Truman Student Research Conference  (Kirksville, MO)  View Abstract