Bouquets are classic, a staple of the post-performance flock to the stage, of the post-graduation family swarm. In my case, they accompanied a tray of cupcakes and a homemade card on my twenty first birthday. In addition to the huge red and peach-colored blooms, however, my eyes alighted upon the tiny, elegant white sprays of baby’s breath contained within each bunch. What makes up those petals, so minute and densely packed within the oft-overlooked white clusters?
Their closely packed bouquet counterparts, the roses, are known for a distinctive hydrophobicity, or ability to repel water so that it beads along the surface and rolls off. Flower petals range in their levels of hydrophobicity, based on the structure of the petal itself. The question presented itself to me, as I stared at the flowers on my table: was the baby’s breath, which appeared similar in macro-structure to the rose, also similar in microstructure?
The Foldscope provided a magnificent tool with which to investigate this question, and I put it to good use, maneuvering the slides of baby’s breath petals under the light of our kitchen lamp. With the help of my roommate and some inventive lighting alterations, I was able to capture the petal microstructure with relative clarity. A dewy-looking picture presented itself to me, full of tiny pockets of reflective cells shining back at me.
Direct comparison of the pictures of baby’s breath collected with similar Foldscope rose petal images proved rather challenging, as the latter are limited. It is only possible to compare on the widest of bases, that both are composed of tiny cells, and owing to the fact that they are live plants this is to be expected. The cells of the baby’s breath do appear to have a notable reflective capacity, which is less apparent in images of colorful roses, likely because the color shows up more prominently in the Foldscope images than structure does.
As the comparison of Foldscope images was not quite as illuminating as expected, a simple Google search was required to get to the bottom of the hydrophobicity question. The results were equally unilluminating, and the question remains for me. I will hazard that they are likely hydrophobic, like the roses with which they are grouped. A makeshift at-home water drop experiment seemed to support this conclusion. But at least now I know that they are beautiful on a microscale, with structural differences between the green stem and the white petals. And I have some clear and colorful snapshots.
I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.