Pollen Festival, get your tissues!

The arrival of the summer is marked by the arrival of pollen, which is celebrated today. These tiny grains have been around for a long time, and are proving to be very useful in science.

Have a runny nose? 

Watery eyes? 

Repeated sneezing? 

Coughing and headaches? 

Nope, not Covid (that’s yesterday’s news). It’s pollen at work! With the arrival of spring, the concentration of pollen in the air is at its highest because of the flowering, and allergies are back in full swing. Buckle up folks, it’s not going to get any better over the years, the WHO estimates that the amount of pollen will continue to increase with climate change.


But here’s the thing, pollen is not just a problem that we need to get rid of! These grains are very useful in science. In paleopalynology, the study of ancient fossils, they can be used to trace the past in detail, to picture landscapes and climates millions of years old, thanks to both the varied size and shape of the grains, as well as their wide distribution, in time and space. Pollen grains have existed since the Precambrian period, more than 4 000 million years ago.

Another interesting fact.


Researchers from the University of Rennes, the University of Burgundy Franche-Comté and the Paleontology Research Center recently published an article on pollen remains in the Pays de la Loire. It is in Mayenne that pieces of amber have trapped plants of a hundred million years old. In this amber that between bacteria and pieces of wood abound the pollens of conifers, Ginkgoales, all recognizable by their wide variety of forms.


Image: Different forms of observed pollen.

Source: Néraudeau, Didier, et al. "Amber-and plant-bearing deposits from the Cenomanian of Neau (Mayenne, France)." BSGF-Earth Sciences Bulletin 191 (2020): 39.

Using these data, scientists were able to reconstruct the landscape that Mayenne had some 100 million years ago. At that time, the trees were not very diverse, composed almost exclusively of conifers. Some of the pollen belonged to trees that lived on the coast, under a lot of sun and in  dry climate.

So pollen is not only synonymous with allergies, it has great advantages for studying the past. And it's beautiful too!