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Pollen trap

By Jasmine, 10 November 2012 Activity

Bees covered in pollen

Take the time to smell the flowers. Then, take a closer look at their pollen!
Image: Thinkstock

Bees are famous for collecting pollen, but that’s not the only way pollen gets around. Try building a pollen trap, and you’ll discover how much is floating in our air every day!

outdoor hazard iconSafety: Do not do this activity if you are allergic to pollen.

You will need

  • Small rectangles white cardboard or stiff white paper
  • String
  • Hole punch
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Pen or pencil
  • Magnifying glass or microscope (optional)

What to do

  1. Use the hole punch to make a hole in each piece of cardboard.
  2. Smear a thing layer of petroleum jelly on one side of each piece of cardboard.
  3. Using the string, hang the bits of cardboard outside in different places.
  4. You can hang them from a tree, near some flowers, near your door or anywhere else you can think of.
  5. If you are hanging them from a tree, just tie a loose loop around the branch, so you don’t damage the tree. You don’t have to climb, a low branch will do fine.
  6. On the back of the cardboard, write where you are hanging it.
  7. After a few days, take the cardboard down again.
  8. Look at what has stuck to the surface of the cardboard.

What’s happening?

On the card, you should see some dust and dirt. If you look closely, you may also notice some yellow grains. This is pollen. Depending on where you put them, you may find the cards have different amounts of pollen on them.

Flowering plants create pollen as part of their reproductive process. It is produced in a part of a flower called the stamen and contains some of the genetic information from the plant that created it. When the pollen from one plant is transferred to a part of a flower called a pistil, the genetic material in the pollen joins with particular cells in the flower, which then grow into seeds. This is called pollination. Pollination regularly takes place between two separate plants of the same species, although there are some plants that can pollinate themselves.

Pollen can travel from one plant to another in different ways. Some plants rely on insects that visit their flowers to spread the pollen. Others release the pollen into the air where it can float around and hopefully land on the pistils of another plant the same species.

It can be very hard to see pollen in the air, because it’s so small, but this is what you have caught on your cardboard. It is this airborne pollen that often triggers hay fever. If you have a magnifying glass or microscope, use these. You might be able to see that pollen grains from different species that have different shapes.

Real-life science

People who suffer from hay fever, have immune systems that react to pollen as though it were a dangerous substance, such as a virus or bacterium. Hay fever is typically caused by specific types of pollen, so sometimes people will find they only suffer from hay fever in particular places, depending on what plants are found there.

We’d love you to comment and share your results. If you’re after more science activities for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!

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