Field of Science

Pollen is not plant sperm

Anything plant related, no matter how crazy, gets directed to TPP.  So it was that TPP finds himself being interviewed about seasonal allergies. Right? Actually having talked to a bunch of allergists, the writer found themselves wondering about pollen, so she gets sent to someone who knows a little bit about how pollen works from the floral perspective.  OK, so I know pollen is plant sperm, but why does it irritate your nose?  First, pollen is not plant sperm, it's a whole, albeit microscopically small, male organism, and like all males, it produces sperm after pollination takes place.  What?  It's a male? Then where is the female?  Hmm, this lady is quicker than most of my students who never think to ask that question.  She's there, residing inside each and every ovule, which is not an egg, housed within an ovary, which is not a sex organ.  Those traditional names are a testament to the same misconception about plant sex that you started with.  Pollen isn't sperm; and a plant ovule isn't an egg.  TPP wonders how many times he's explained this during his career and seemingly with no impact what so ever except perhaps on a case by case basis. Misconceptions about plants have more lives, and much longer lives, than a cat.  The true nature of the seed plant life cycle has been understood since Wilhelm Hofmeister published his magnum opus on plant evolution in 1851.  So that's only been a mere 162 years, and still a jacketed megasporangium is called an ovule (although TPP does admit the convenience of the term, which botanists still use while knowing it implies pure wrong thinking).  However, at the end of my lesson, my interviewer said, "Oh, you're good! You explain things so well."  Thank you, and it only took 43 years of practice.

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