Under a scanning electron microscope, the plants that populate our world look more like alien planets.
1. CRIMSON CLOVER FLOWER PETAL
When it's in your yard, the Trifolium incarnatum looks like this. Workers at the CDC plucked one of the petals—which are actually modified leaves—from a crimson clover's tiny flowers and magnified it 2584x to reveal its "ultrastructural" details. According to the CDC, "the highly textured surface, composed of many cavitations and protuberances, are actually modification of the plant's leaf morphology, such as the leaf's stomata, which are the leaf pores through which the plant respires."
Also known as Italian clover, the plants were brought to the U.S. to be used as feed for cattle; farmers also used them to improve the soils in a field before food crops were planted.
This scan of the lower leaf of the Helianthus annuus looks a little like something out of a sci-fi movie. Both the spiny thing and the worm-like things are trichomes, or outgrowths, on the surface of the plant.
Here's some stuff that might make you sneeze, magnified 500x. The pollen comes from sunflowers, morning glory, hollyhock, lily, primrose, and castor bean.
4. WHITE DOGWOOD FLOWER
After plucking this Cornus florida specimen from "the grounds of the Decatur, Georgia suburbs in the month of April," workers at the CDC magnified it 888x to reveal the ultrastructural details—which sort of resemble tentacles—of one of the super tiny flower buds that are clustered in the center. According to the CDC, "Due to the extremely small size of the centrally located clustered flowers, the larger colored 'bracts' which are actually modified leaves that protect the flowers themselves, are also mistaken for flower petals." When it's not magnified, the white dogwood flower looks like this.
5. COMMON DANDELION
This image, magnified 811x, shows the details of a Taraxacum officinale "clock," those puffballs of seeds that float on the wind. According to the CDC, "the remnants of a seed attachment is visible as a small nub protruding from a small papule. It is from these nub-like points that the 'parachute'-equipped seeds detach, and are blown away, sometime over a distance of miles." It's so tough to get rid of these plants because of their deep tap root—if the whole root system isn't removed, a new plant will grow.
This unidentified species of spiderwort was magnified 1421x, revealing the texture of the modified leaf and a single grain of pollen on the petal.
This is a colorized image of a Ambrosia trifida, or ragweed, plant. According to the CDC, "When ragweed pollen is disbursed, many people have a reaction, but because they don't see the tiny flowers on the ragweed, they assume it's the pollen from the larger flowered goldenrod, which blooms at the same time. Note the dispersed pollen granules."
8. Walnut Leaf
Lisa Howard via Wikimedia Commons
This magnified image of a lower leaf of Juglans nigra, or Black Walnut, tree leaf looks like it's covered in tiny trees. The eye- or mouth-like slits are stoma, and the tree-like protrusions are trichomes, or leaf hairs.
9. Russian Olive Leaf
Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory via Flickr
The leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia have a silverish sheen. They get it from the lepidote scales shown in this image, which was taken as part of the 2011 PNNL Science as Art contest and magnified 250x.
10. Corn Plant Tassel
Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory via Science Daily
This image shows the meristem, or tip, of a growing tassel in a naturally-occurring maize mutant, COMPACT PLANT2 (CT2). Plants with this mutation develop abnormally large ears of corn.