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Scientists have discovered why the Begonia pavonina, a plant found in the southeastern forests of Asia, has blue leaves. It appears that the main factor influencing the occurrence of such an unusual aspect is that sunlight hardly reaches the floor of these thick forests, also known as dark rain forests.
Most plant species depend on chlorophyll which collects light and synthesizes molecules so that plants can transform this light into energy and store it.
More precisely, chlorophyll is a pigment which absorbs blue and red light. After converting this light, the plant reflects it as green, and that is why most plants are green.
Chemistry Makes Begonia Blue
According to co-author Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol, this plant has blue leaves because the color is produced by iridoplasts, which are photosynthetic structures. In other words, they are the cellular machinery of photosynthesis.
Whitney added that the shape was very usual in the Begonia iridoplasts because membranes were placed in layers and separated by a liquid, which was very thin. These membranes take this unusual color during this process controlled by the structures, thus creating the dark blue tone on the plant’s leaves.
What makes this discovery more fascinating is that these iridoplasts can absorb the sunlight, although it sometimes reaches the ground in low levels. Therefore, when the sunlight doesn’t hit the Begonia, the leaves turn blue.
According to Whitney, this phenomenon is the living proof that plants were designed to resist and adapt to any environment, as some even resist at freezing temperatures. It is worth mentioning that without some of these chemicals, all plants would die or at least they would no longer be green.
Thanks to these structures, plants are not just able to survive as they also thrive in such thick forests where little sunlight reaches them from time to time. When this plant is moved into a different environment, where there is enough sunlight, they no longer retain their blue leaves.
This phenomenon occurs only when the plant grows in an environment where there is no or little light. Scientists will continue their research to find out more about these blue leaves in order to develop various strategies to use these chemical structures for other purposes.
Image Source: Murvegetal Patrick Blanc