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Plant Anatomy Animations

These animations were created by transforming images of consecutive microtome sections into individual "frames" using JavaScript, so that time represents movement up the axis of the plant structure. The results provides a new perspective on how plants are constructed in three dimensions.

This technique is an adaptation of a procedure pioneered by Professors Martin Zimmermann and Barry Tomlinson of Harvard University and the Fairchild Tropical Garden who used a film motion-picture camera and two microscopes with split oculars to visualize the interconnectedness of plant vascular tissue. The individual images were animated using video.

Our animations are entirely digital. We first imported digital images of consecutive sections into Adobe Photoshop as separate layers. Layers were aligned with each other by manipulating their transparency, then exported as separate jpeg files. These files were digitally manipulated to remove distractions from the background, including dust, discolorations, fragments of tissue and adjacent sections. The animation is generated using a JavaScript program. The images must be loaded before the animation can be activated. The navigation bar below controls the forward and backward motion, and the pause. The 'motion' control button can also be selected and dragged to any part of the animation. Prepared by Barbara Whitlock, 2009-09-30

Aegle marmelos

Aegle marmelos

Flower bud of Aegle marmelos (L.) Corr. Serr. (Rutaceae), accession number SV446. This species, known as bael or Bengali quince, is native to Indomalesia; however this specimen was collected by W. T. Swingle from a tree cultivated at the Kampong in Coconut Grove, Florida, in 1945. The animation was made with micrographs of 300 cross sections of a young flower bud, taken at 4X.


Micromelum scandens

Ovary of Micromelum scandens Rech. (Rutaceae), accession number Tillson 302 (A1-6). The specimen was collected on Bougainville Island, now part of Papua New Guinea, in 1930. The animation is from micrographs of 192 cross sections of a carpel showing the spirally twisted locules of the ovary that is common in the genus, taken at 4X.

Micromelum compressum var. inodorum

Micromelum compressum var. inodorum

Young flower bud of Micromelum compressum var. inodorum (Blume) Tan. (Rutaceae), accession number Tillson 279. This species is only found in the Philippines and appears to lack the spirally twisted ovary that characterizes other members of the genus. The animation is made with images of 170 cross sections of a flower bud from a specimen collected in Bontoc, the Philippines.


Sabal etonia

Flower bud of Sabal etonia Swingle ex Nash (Arecaceae), accession number SV52 (N1-4). This species, known as scrub palmetto, is one of Florida's native palms, first described as a species by W. T. Swingle. This specimen was collected from N.W. 3rd Avenue and 38th Street in Miami, in 1944. The animation was made with micrographs of 452 cross sections, taken at 4X..


Swinglea glutinosa

Fruit of Swinglea glutinosa (Blanco) Merr. (Rutaceae), accession number SV 199 (B and C). This species is native to the Philippines where it is known as "tabog." It was named in Swingle's honor by Harvard botanist E. D. Merrill. The animation is made with images of 112 longitudinal sections of part of the fruit, followed by 100 cross sections, all taken at 4X. The enlarged cells are probably mucilage glands. This specimen was collected from a tree cultivated on Colonel Robert Montgomery's estate in Coral Gables in 1948.

Digital animations can also be used to portray how microscopy is a dynamic process. Even a single microscopic section of a leaf may contain three dimensional structures, such as the crystals seen below. At the microscope, these minute structures can be visualized by changing the focus. Here we capture this process digitally by using images taken at consecutive focal planes as frames in our animation


Acrostichum fern

Druse crystals from a paradermal section of a leaf of an Acrostichum fern, collected in Miami in 1944 by Dr. Robert B. Wylie. The micrograph was taken at 40X.

Reference: Zimmermann, M. H., and P. B. Tomlinson 1966. Analysis of complex vascular systems in plants: optical shuttle method. Science 152: 72-73.