Journal Article

Structural colour and iridescence in plants: the poorly studied relations of pigment colour

Beverley J. Glover and Heather M. Whitney

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 105, issue 4, pages 505-511
Published in print April 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcq007
Structural colour and iridescence in plants: the poorly studied relations of pigment colour

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background

Colour is a consequence of the optical properties of an object and the visual system of the animal perceiving it. Colour is produced through chemical and structural means, but structural colour has been relatively poorly studied in plants.

Scope

This Botanical Briefing describes the mechanisms by which structures can produce colour. In plants, as in animals, the most common mechanisms are multilayers and diffraction gratings. The functions of structural colour are then discussed. In animals, these colours act primarily as signals between members of the same species, although they can also play roles in camouflaging animals from their predators. In plants, multilayers are found predominantly in shade-plant leaves, suggesting a role either in photoprotection or in optimizing capture of photosynthetically active light. Diffraction gratings may be a surprisingly common feature of petals, and recent work has shown that they can be used by bees as cues to identify rewarding flowers.

Conclusions

Structural colour may be surprisingly frequent in the plant kingdom, playing important roles alongside pigment colour. Much remains to be discovered about its distribution, development and function.

Keywords: Diffraction grating; flower colour; interference; iridescence; multilayer; photoprotection; pollinator attraction; structural colour

Journal Article.  4350 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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