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Freaky Blue Leaves Allow Plants to Thrive in Shade
B. pavonina is not the only plant that produces these distinctive chloroplasts, leading the researchers to believe that other blue-leaved plants may be doing the same thing.
By George Dvorsky

When it comes to converting sunlight into food, plants overwhelming prefer the color green. However, new research shows that at least one particular shrub defies this convention, sprouting blue leaves that do a remarkably good job of capturing sunlight when there’s very little to go around.

A new paper published in Nature Research shows that the shade dwelling plant, Begonia pavonina, uses its blue leaves to enhance photosynthesis. This plant lives under the thick canopies of tropical forests in Malaysia, and it’s known for its beautiful iridescent blue leaves. Scientists assumed that the color was strictly ornamental, but it actually helps the plant to thrive in low light conditions.

Iridescence is an optical phenomenon in which the color or shade of an object changes according to the angle of observation and illumination. Good examples include those rainbow-like drops of gasoline in puddles, or the complex colored patterns on the surface of soap bubbles. Iridescence is also a feature of plants, which they use as a brilliant billboard advertisement to attract pollinating insects. New research by Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol suggests that iridescence plays an important role in photosynthesis as well, something that has never been shown before.

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