Nature’s Helicopter

It was quite a nice day out when I decided my Foldscope sample would double as a flashback from my past. As a child, I spent hours during the fall playing with what I call “helicopters” but what are better known as whirligigs or samaras.

These maple seed pods provided me endless amounts of entertainment, and I distinctly remember collecting handfuls of them to try to plant and grow my own maple tree. It never worked. Regardless, when I saw one of these helicopters during my search for a suitable Foldscope sample, I was immediately interested to know what it might look like under magnification.

I was not surprised to notice that the structure of the helicopter resembled plant cells, with their almost rectangle-like shape. I’m not sure if the magnification was strong enough or refined enough for me to see the cellular structure of the helicopter, but it did make sense to me that I as seeing an almost windowpane structure as the “wings” of the helicopter is slightly transparent when not under magnification. The lines separating the windowpanes throughout the image remind me of veins, though I’m not sure what the actual function of them may be for the helicopter and its purpose as a seed pod. Could it be possible that they are nutrient channels that keep the seed alive before it can be dispersed? Do they make the seed pods tougher as to avoid predation? The magnification of the helicopter made me realize that despite the almost flimsy nature of the pod, there may be some underlying structural strength that helps increase the fitness of the maple tree overall.

Written by Brigitte Harbers: “I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.”

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