Stinging nettle trichome

Every 30 days the site administrators will pick an image made through a microscope from the "Photography Through the Microscope Gallery" to be featured on the front page of the website.

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Charles Krebs
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Location: Issaquah, WA USA

Stinging nettle trichome

Post by Charles Krebs »

Quite by accident I came across some nettles the other day :smt119.

So after the numbness in my finger tips subsided I carefully collected some, and took a look at the underside of a leaf. Here you can see a nice example of a stinging trichome along one of the leaf veins. The tapered tube is very stiff and brittle due to a composition that includes silicates. The small ball-shaped tip breaks off easily on contact resulting in an extremely sharp point. The bulbous base, although appearing somewhat solid, is actually quite flexible, somewhat like an inflated bag, so that the enclosed liquid (containing sodium formamide, acetyl choline, histamine) is readily "pumped" into the unfortunate creature that pushed against the tube.

Olympus BHA, BH2-UMA, MSPlan 10/0.30 and NFK 2.5X, Canon T3i. (25x recorded on sensor). Illuminated with base light coming through leaf surface.

Last edited by Charles Krebs on Thu Jun 30, 2011 10:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by RogelioMoreno »


Very nice!

Very good notes.


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Post by rjlittlefield »

Incredible quality, both technical and artistic. This could be an illustration in anything from a textbook to a fairy tale.


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Post by dennisua »

So that's how it looks! Very nice picture!

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Post by Cactusdave »

Stunning image. As Rik says, it has aesthetic beauty, while conveying scientific information in a very striking way. I love the lighting, it just compliments the image so well.
Leitz Ortholux 1, Zeiss standard, Nikon Diaphot inverted, Canon photographic gear

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Post by Pau »

Extraordinary image!

Is it Urtica sp?

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Post by Mitch640 »

A beautiful image, but I still don't like nettles. :)

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Post by lauriek »

Beautiful! I've been meaning to try these but never got round to it, not sure I'll bother now!! ;) The little ball is very interesting, I suppose if that wasn't there the sharp end would gradually 'erode'...

What I hate with nettles is kneeling on little ones, oooooooooouch!

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Post by discomorphella »

Hi Charlie--

That's just spectacular. Its as though you have a SEM on your desk instead of a BHA....and the backlighting is amazing, especially coming up through the vein on the leaf. Now I want to thin section a nettle leaf through the trichome.


Charles Krebs
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Location: Issaquah, WA USA

Post by Charles Krebs »

Thanks all.

Yes, definitely Urtica sp., most likely Urtica dioica.

This was the second leaf tried on the microscope. For the first one I had simply cut out a section and placed it on the slide to photograph. But it was not successful... I watched one trichome after another simply "fall over" as the liquid at the base of the "needle" drained into the cut the leaf section. The rigid needle remained intact, but the base shrunk quickly like a thick balloon with a leak. It illustrated clearly just how flexible the bulbous base is. On the second try I made a tiny "pool" of water (with putty) on the slide, used a whole leaf, and positioned the leaf stem so that it rested in the water. Worked fine.

Last time I posted a shot of this subject (4 years ago!), Betty mentioned its use in salads, as well as nettle eating contests.

I knew that it was used as a salad, but every time I encounter this plant I wonder about the first person to entertain the idea of this as a foodstuff. As I said 4 years ago:

... makes me smile and wonder at the thought process involved in the first person to try that... something like this:
OUCH! This plant is nasty! It really stings and itches if you touch it.... how about we serve some up with dinner?

Marek Mis
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Post by Marek Mis »


Beautiful image !
It is very pleasant to see the nettle in your photography. It is one of my the most favourite plants for microphotography (especially in polarized light).

Best regards


Wim van Egmond
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Post by Wim van Egmond »

Wow, that is spectacular. It was one of the things on my to do list. Guess I can skip that one. :) I think it is not easy to find something that has not been seen on the forum. Not that we have to, but it is fun to discover new subjects.


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Post by Planapo »

Wow, perfect image, Charlie!

Back then 4 years ago, I thought those images couldn't be done better, but now with this one you've really trumped yourself.

Look, after a hard day of photographing the nettles, you may want to enjoy them even more, with your well-earned evening beer, it might take a six-pack, though :wink: :

--Betty :)

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Post by abpho »

Awesome shot. Perfect execution.

PS: Now I know how to get a black tongue. Eat 30 feet of Nettles. Thanks.

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