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Sean Anderson, Matthew Cheetham, Matthew Clemente, Alex Colletti, Winston Moy, David Talarico, Andrew Caden, Christopher Durando, Dennis O’Connell, Thomas Samper, and Bhumi Sha (with Lisa Grega, Engineering)

Project Topic/Abstract:

“Aerodynamic characteristics of saccate pollen grains”

The pollen grains of several gymnosperm groups consist of a main body and 1-3 air-filled bladders, or sacci.  Although sacci may serve a buoyancy function to orient the grain on the ovular pollination droplet in some taxa, sacci have also been shown to increase pollen volume while adding minimal mass, thus decreasing density, and thereby increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of wind pollination.  However, no published studies have quantitatively addressed the effects of grain geometry or surface ornamentation at the low Reynolds numbers that pollen grains demonstrate.  The objectives of this study were to empirically investigate the effects of varying geometries and surface ornamentation on the aerodynamic properties of saccate pollen grains through the experimental determination of drag coefficients and shape factors.  Structurally different grains of two extant conifers (Pinus and Falcatifolium) were studied, and using electron microscopy, mathematical modeling, and solid modeling, scaled-up physical models of the pollen types were created.  Models were produced with and without sacci, as well as with and without surface texture on the main body.  Sacci increased the shape factor, or resistance coefficient, in all pollen types studied, compared to the same types that had been modeled without sacci.  The presence of surface ornamentation also decreased the drag coefficients for saccate pollen grains of Pinus.  This study is the first to experimentally demonstrate the effect of surface texture on drag for any biological, or non-biological, particle at low Reynolds numbers.  This study also provides additional empirical evidence for the aerodynamic role of sacci, supporting their adaptive significance for anemophily.


  • Grega, L., S. Anderson, M. Cheetham, M. Clemente, A. Colletti, W. Moy, D. TalaricoS. L. Thatcher, and J. M. Osborn. 2013.  Aerodynamic characteristics of saccate pollen grains. International Journal of Plant Sciences 174: 499-510. Article (PDF)


  • Aerodynamic Characteristics of Saccate Pollen. Botany 2008 – Annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America and three other plant biology societies.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  July 2008. (A. Colletti, M. Clemente, A. Caden, S. Anderson, M. Cheetham, D. O’Connell, L. Grega, S. Thatcher, and J. M. Osborn).  View Abstract