The mystery of the blue leaved begonia plant has been broken by a team of scientists as the researchers set out to understand the unusual colors produced by the plant.
The research features a team of Universities Of Bristol and Essex researchers with Dr. Heather Whitney in the lead, and had its results published in the Nature Plants journal on Monday under the name “Photonic multilayer structure of Begonia chloroplasts enhances photosynthetic efficiency”.
The current research follows after the School of Biological Sciences’ Ph.D. student, Marc Jacobs, who also performed research on the matter.
The plant to cause such a stir is the blue leaved begonia, or the Begonia pavonina, a plant whose roots are placed in Malaysia, and which has been proven to have an actual purpose for its unusual leaf color.
The begonia plant’s leaves exhibit an iridescent blue shade that has been proven to surpass the aesthetic level and instead enter the utility and survival plain as the shade contributes to photosynthesis.
Researchers discovered that the blue leaved begonia makes use of a different kind of chloroplasts than those utilized by most plants and which sport the usual green leaves.
The plant’s chloroplasts were called and have come to be known as ‘iridoplasts’, and owe their name to the brilliant shade of blue coloration and iridescence they produce.
The iridoplasts were closely analyzed using electron microscopy, a special technique, and revealed that each individual chloroplast contained by the leaf exhibited a mirror-like property of brightly reflecting blue light.
The analysis further revealed that the very different iridoplasts had formed in a very uniform layer that is about 100 nanometers thick. By comparison, a human hair is 1,000 timed wider.
As the researchers collaborated with the university photonics scientists, the study led the involved parties to believe that the iridoplast nanostructure worked in quite the opposite manner from the usual photosynthesis process.
Whilst most plants owe their leaf color to the fact that they reflect green wavelengths of light while absorbing the red and blue light waves, the begonia plant reflects the blue wavelengths and instead absorbs the green light.
The reason for the reversal seems to be owed to the plant’s natural habitat as its location on the ground level and farther under the forest canopy doesn’t allow for a whole lot of light.
As the team’s test went to show, the iridoplasts performed better in cases of very low light than the chloroplasts.
This would entail that the blue leaved begonia iridescent shimmer that has posed so many questions is the plant’s ingenious method of performing photosynthesis by harvesting the green light that makes its way under the tall tree canopy.
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