[pollen] [embryophyte spores] [algae] [fungal spores] [dinoflagellates]
[microforaminifera] [chitinozoans] [acritarchs] [amoeba]

The figures above represent various kinds of palynomorphs. "Palynomorphs" include both plant and animal structures that are microscopic in size (from about 5 µm to about 500 µm), and are composed of compounds that are highly resistant to most forms of decay other than oxidation, being composed of sporopollenin, chitin,, or related compounds. In the strict sense, palynomorphs are recognized as microscopic structures that are abundant in most sediments and sedimentary rocks, and are resistant to the routine pollen-extraction procedures including strong acids, bases, acetolysis, and density separation. In a broader sense, other microfossils sometimes are given "courtesy appointments" as "palynomorphs" even they do not survive routine pollen-extraction procedures.
These "other microfossils" have siliceous, calcareous, phosphatic, or cellulose walls, and most are marine or freshwater organisms, or parts thereof. Opaline phytoliths are neither palynomorphs nor aquatic microfossils, being the siliceous remains of certain cells of higher plants. And, foraminifera are both! They have calcareous tests and resistant chitinous linings.

PALYNOLOGY: The branch of science concerned with the study of pollen, spores , and similar palynomorphs, living and fossil. Term suggested by Hyde & Williams (1944). Etymol. Greek "to strew or sprinkle", suggestive of "fine meal" cognate with Latin pollen, "fine flour, dust. "

Pronunciation: (pal-ih-nol-o-jee) the "a" is as in "map," 
and neither as the "a" in "pail" nor the "o" in "pollen."
(Traverse, 1995)

ACRITARCHS: "an informal utilitarian, 'catch-all' category without status as a class, order or other supragenieric unit" comprised of "small microfossils of unknown and probably varied biological affinities consisting of a central cavity enclosed by a wall of single or multiple layers and a chiefly organic composition." (Evitt, 1963). Precambrian - Recent, probably of algal affinity.

AEROALLERGY: the branch of medicine concerned with the seasonal occurrence, abundance, and allerogenic effect of spores and pollen.

  • Aerobiology Links

    ACTUOPALYNOLOGY: The study of extant palynomorphs which are either living, still retain their cell contents, or whose cell contents have been removed by maceration. Includes mellisopalynology, pollination ecology, aeroallergy, and criminology. Exclusive of paleopalynology.

    ALGA: the cell walls of certain freshwater green algae are resistant to standard palynological procedures. The vegetative cells of the colonial forms Pediastrum and Botryococcus are frequently recognized in lacustrine sediment, as are the spores of Spirogyra and certain other Zygnemataceae. Round spores (leiospheres) are particularly abundant, but are seldom identified.

    AMOEBA: (syn. Rhizopods, Testaceans, Thecamoebae) Protozoans in the subclass Testacealobios of the Rhizopoda are characterized by shells or tests enclosing the protoplasm. The tests are 5 - 250 micrometers in size and are generally resistant to routine pollen extraction. The organisms are abundant in mesic habitats ranging from damp soil to lakes. The tests are urn-shaped to flattened, with various sculpturing and ornamentation.

    APERTURES: any thinning or modification of the wall of spores or pollen that serves as an exit for its contents. In embryophyte spores these are the monolete or trilete laesura. In pollen these are the furrows (colpi) and pores. The arrangement and number of pores and furrows are a chief criteria for identifying pollen classes.

    Archeological Palynology ARCHAEOLOGICAL PALYNOLOGY: the analysis of pollen, spores , and other palynomorphs from archeological sites. Applications include the reconstruction of prehistoric diet, funary practices, artifact function and source, archaeological feature use, cultivation and domestication of plants, and human impact on vegetation.

    CHITIN: The polysaccharide coating of microforaminifera, scolecodonts, and the spores and hyphae of certain fungi. Highly resistant to forms of deterioration other than oxidation.

    CHITINOZOANS: Marine microfossils of uncertain affinity generally shaped like flasks, occurring individually or in chains. stratigraphic range from uppermost Cambrian to Devonian. Usually assumed to be animal remains. (Traverse, 1995))

    CRIMINOLOGY: palynology is sometimes used to determine the past location of items or persons based on the pollen and spores on or in them.
    Bryant, V.M., Jr., and Mildenhall, D.C. 1996. Forensic palynology in the United States of America. Palynology. 14: 193-208.
    Bryant, V.M., Jr., Jones, J.G. and Mildenhall, D.C. 1996. Chapter 23G. Studies in forensic palynology. p. 957-959 in: Jansonius, J. and McGregor, D.C. (eds.), Palynology: Principles and Applications. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, vol. 3
    Faegri, K. and J. Iversen. 1989. (Fourth Edition by K. Faegri, P.E. Kaland, and K. Krzywinski) Textbook of Pollen Analysis. John Wiley & Sons New York 328 p. (criminology, p. 174)

  • California Criminalistic Institute
  • Terry Hutter's Forensic Palynology Page
  • Dallas Mildenhall's Forensic Services
  • Lynne Milne University of Western Australia

    CRYPTOSPORES: Spores and other cells of ancient organisms of unknown affinity. Not strictly palynomorphs because the cell walls are destroyed by routine palynological processing. Cryptospores are generally small (10 - 20 µm) cylinders and spheres, smooth to ornamented. They are the primary indication of life during the Archean (3.5 - 2.5 GY) and Proterozoic (2.5 - 0.5 GY). However similar remains can be recovered by similar processes in Cenozoic sediments and in meteorites.


    DIATOMS: Microscopic photosynthetic organisms with siliceous secondary plant walls termed "frustules." Mostly 20 - 100 µm, and generally of two forms: pennate or centric.

    DINOFLAGELLATES: Unicellular aquatic organisms, motile and heterotrophic, parasitic, or photosynthetic. Generally with two flagella, one within an encircling sulcus, the second (longitudinal) oriented posteriorly. Life cycles various, but often with motile thecate stage having a cellulose cell wall, and a resting cyst (hypnozygote) with a chitinous or "dinosporinous" wall forming inside the theca. Form of the cyst ranges from similar to the theca (proximate) to bearing several trumpet-shaped processes (chorate). Theca and cyst often comprised of polygonal plates separated by sutures.

    ENVIRONMENTAL PALYNOLOGY: The use of palynomorphs, their identification, distribution, and abundance to determine past changes in the biota, climate, or surficial geology of an area. Includes Quaternary palynology and Archaeological palynology . Exclusive of stratigraphic palynology,, but the study of sedimentary sequences often includes both stratigraphic and environmental palynology.


    FUNGAL SPORES: Unicellular or multicellular, reproductive or distributional cells developing into a number of different phases of the complex life cycles of the fungi.

    MELLISOPALYNOLOGY: the study of pollen in honey or other bee products such as "bee baskets."
    Link to Mellisopalynology Webb Sites

    MICROFORAMINIFERA: Calcareous, unicellular marine organisms, with alternating or spirally-arranged progressively larger cells. The chitin ous inner linings are common in pollen preparations of marine or estuarine sediment.

    PALEOPALYNOLOGY: The study of fossil palynomorphs, where "fossil" is defined as "any indication of past life" including the term "sub-fossil." Fossil palynomorphs are comprised of sporopollenin, chitin, or pseudochitin little modified from their original composition. Specific applications include stratigraphic palynology, archaeological palynology, and environmental palynology. Exclusive of actuopalynology.

  • A. Traverse (1988) Paleopalynology.
  • Tschudy, R.H. and R.A. Scott (1969) Aspects of palynology.

    PHYTOLITHS: the siliceous secondary cell walls of certain terrestrial plants. Phytoliths are destroyed by hydrofluoric acid so they are never present in routine palynological preparations, and phytoliths processing involves treatment with strong oxidizing agents, which destroy pollen. Studied phytoliths generally range from ca. 20 - 50 µm.

    POLLEN: The multinucleate reproductive microgametophyte of seed plants, enclosed in the microspore wall. Fossil pollen consists of the microspore wall, comprised of sporopollenin, and generally identified by its apertures and sculpture. Unlike "spore" the word "pollen" is a collective noun like the word "flour" from which the word palynology is derived. Therefore, the plural "pollens" should not be used.

    POLLINATION ECOLOGY: the branch of agriculture or ecology concerned with the distribution of pollen by wind or animals and its efficacy in fertilization and seed set.

    Quaternary Palynology QUATERNARY PALYNOLOGY: The branch of environmental palynology dealing with palynomorphs of Quaternary age, ca. the last 2.5 million years; typically using radiometrically- or paleomagnetically- dated sedimentary sequences.

    SCOLECODONTS: the scleroprotein teeth, jaws, and associated features of polychaet annelid worms. Size from 100 - 4000 µm. Present in marine sediments from the Ordovician (ca. 480 Ma) to the Recent, but used for stratigraphic purposes primarily in the Paleozoic.

    SCULPTURE: the external texture or pollen grains and spores . For example spines or reticulations.

    EMBRYOPHYTE SPORES: A wide variety of microscopic unicellular reproductive cells developing into gametophytes. Examples include liverworts, club mosses, horse tails, ferns, and many extinct forms. Typically with a triangular or oval outline and various scultpure.

    Quaternary Palynology STRATIGRAPHIC PALYNOLOGY: The use of palynomorphs, their identification, distribution, and abundance to correlate among sedimentary sequences of any age, or to provide chronological control for these sedimentary sequences. Exclusive of environmental palynology,, but the study of sedimentary sequences often includes both stratigraphic and environmental palynology.

    SPOROPOLLENIN: The carotenoid-like polymer comprising the outer wall of pollen grains and certain spores , and apparently dinoflagellates and acritarchs. Highly resistant to forms of deterioration other than oxidation.


    Owen Davis 12/99