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Observing Ferns under a Microscope

A science experiment that can be done by teachers and students with the use of their educational microscope is examining a fern’s spore. This can easily be done during the time of the year when the underside of the fern’s leaves is covered with spore cases. All we need to do is to scrape off these tiny globular objects and examine them under our low power and high power microscope.

Under a high power compound light microscope, you will see that these spore cases have a circular body and jointed by a surrounding ring. This ring straightens when the spore matures and in the process, it breaks the walls of the spore case. A number of tiny oval cells within the spore case are then released. Teachers can let their students or children witness this process by letting them warm the microscope slide where the spore case is located.

These small oval-shaped cells are the spores that, when carried by the wind and land on a good spot, germinate. We can gather a fern at various stages of its life cycle. We can put a germinating spore under a low power stereo microscope and see that it is a tiny body with the shape of a heart. This minute plant, called a prothallus, can make its own food and only grows in dark and moist grounds.

With a simple microscope hand lens, you will see the rhizoids or the root-like hairs beneath the plant’s surface. On the heart’s cleft there are also small bodies that are shaped like bottles. These are called the archegonia and these can clearly be seen under a stereo binocular microscope. The archegonia contain the egg cells of the plant. The sperm cells, on the other hand, are formed in the antheridia which is located just below the rhizoids.

The reproduction process of the fern plant happens when the plant gets access to water. The antheridium swells and expels the microscopic sperms cells which will swim in the water. One will eventually reach the archegonium and this will fertilize the egg cell. When the cell is fertilized, it will then divide exponentially until it slowly develops into a foot that will absorb nourishment from the prothallus. Another cell-mass forms into a root that will look for soil. A third mass of developed cells will become a small leaf. This small leaf curls around the prothallus until will be exposed under the light and to the air. Lastly, a fourth cell-mass develops into a stem. This stem grows a little downward and horizontally below the soil’s surface and forms a rhizome. More roots and leaves grow from the stem and rhizome. Observing the stages of growth of ferns under a low power microscope can be a very fun and educational especially to those who love botany or the study of plants. In order not to have a hard time to look for ferns in its different stages, teachers can suggest to their students to cultivate their own fern garden.

All they need is a glass jar with a moist sand or blotting paper at the bottom. Let the students scatter the fern’s spores inside the jar and cover it loosely with a sheet of glass. The children only have to keep the jar moist, warm and shaded. In a few days or weeks, they will have their own set of ferns that each can be observed under a low power binocular stereo microscope.

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