Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is pollen flammable?

A few weeks ago, there was a post on XCKD's "what if" asking what would happen if all of the pollen on earth was ignited:

As evidence that pollen is actually flammable, the author pointed to youtube videos labeled "burning pollen" but which are actually not of pollen at all. Rather, they are the fluff from cottonwood seeds:

This got me curious: is real pollen also flammable? It is denser so I figured it wouldn't naturally catch on fire to the same degree, but I still wanted to see for myself.

I gathered up a ton of pollen (from red flower carpet rose), and held a lit match against it.

 I did the same thing with sawdust as a reference, as I just had them in a little pile on top of concrete (rather than trying to ignite with a specific dispersal pattern in the air which would have been harder and more dangerous). The idea is that sawdust is accepted to be flammable (or inflammable if you like), even though it may not catch on fire the same way a piece of paper would depending on the conditions. But I figured this would be comparable to what is already online with cottonwood fluff, but for actual pollen (e.g. if a bunch of pollen fell from the flowers and accumulated on the ground). Note that oak catkins or other flower structures don't count as pollen either.

I found that pollen is roughly as flammable as sawdust, perhaps a bit more. Here are the videos:



Here's what the pollen looked like at the end:

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