• Caytonia;
  • conifers;
  • functional morphology;
  • pollination biology;
  • saccate pollen


  • Among many species of living conifers the presence of pollen with air bladders (saccate pollen) is strongly associated with downward-facing ovules and the production of pollination drops. This combination of features enables saccate pollen grains captured in the pollination drop to float upwards into the ovule. Despite the importance of this mechanism in understanding reproduction in living conifers and in extinct seed plants with similar morphologies, experiments designed to test its effectiveness have yielded equivocal results.
  • In vitro and in vivo pollination experiments using saccate and nonsaccate pollen were performed using modeled ovules and two Pinus species during their natural pollination period.
  • Buoyant saccate pollen readily floated through aqueous droplets, separating these grains from nonbuoyant pollen and spores. Ovules that received saccate pollen, nonsaccate pollen or a mixture of both all showed larger amounts and higher proportions of saccate pollen inside ovules after drop secretion.
  • These results demonstrate that flotation is an effective mechanism of pollen capture and transport in gymnosperms, and suggest that the prevalence of saccate grains and downward-facing ovules in the evolutionary history of seed plants is a result of the widespread use of this mechanism.