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Mystery Solved

Blue leaves help begonias harvest energy in low light

Tiny structures give plants iridescent color, aid photosynthesis in shady conditions

4:19pm, November 28, 2016
blue begonia leaf

ROSES ARE RED, BEGONIAS ARE BLUE  The iridescent color of some begonias comes from tiny structures. Those structures also help the plant convert dim light into energy, scientists found.

Iridescent blue leaves on some begonias aren’t just for show — they help the plants harvest energy in low light.

The begonias’ chloroplasts, which use photosynthesis to convert light into fuel, have a repeating structure that allows the plants to efficiently soak up light. This comes in handy for a plant that lives on the shady forest floor. The structure acts as a “photonic crystal” that preferentially reflects blue wavelengths of light and helps the plant better absorb reds and greens for energy production, scientists report October 24 in Nature Plants.

Colors in plants and animals typically come from pigments, chemicals that absorb certain wavelengths, or colors, of light. In rare cases, plants and animals derive their hues from microstructures. In begonias, such tiny, regular architectures can be found within certain chloroplasts, known as iridoplasts. As light

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