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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Blue-Leaved Begonias and Fibonacci Golden Spirals

       Some leaves of certain species of begonias in Malaysia are luminescent blue in order to harvest maximum energy in low-light conditions.

      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 is important for plants that live 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, researchers report in the October 24, 2016 issue of Nature.

     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 bounces off these structures within an iridoplast, the reflected waves interfere at certain wavelengths creating a blue, iridescent shimmer.

     These contain regularly spaced stacks of three to four 'thylakoids' - which resemble a photonic crystal and strongly reflect wavelengths of light between 430 and 560 nanometers.

      The thylakoids look very similar to the artificial structures commonly used to make miniature lasers that control the flow of light. Studies of low light gathering in begonias may prove useful in improving the sharpness of color on computer and Smart phone screens.

      The iridoplasts concentrate these specific wavelengths onto the plant's photosynthetic apparatus, increasing the efficiency of its photosynthesis by 5 to 10 percent. 

      Those structured chloroplasts also offer a survival benefit; they help the plants collect light. In a hybrid of two species, Begonia grandis and Begonia pavonina, the structures enhance the absorption of green and red wavelengths by concentrating these rays on light-absorbing compartments within the iridoplasts. Importantly, the structures slow the light. The “group velocity,” or the speed of a packet of light waves, is decreased due to interference between incoming and reflected light. The slowdown gives the plant more time to absorb precious sunbeams.

     “These iridoplasts can basically photosynthesize at low-light levels where normal chloroplasts just simply could not photosynthesize,” says study coauthor Dr. Heather Whitney, a plant biologist at the University of Bristol, England. Iridoplasts, however, can’t hold their own in bright light. So begonias also have standard chloroplasts, which provide energy in plentiful sunshine. Iridoplasts act like “a backup generator” in dim conditions,  Dr. Whitney says.

      The Fibonacci Golden spiral on some begonia leaves is a luminescent bonus!

Blue and Fibonacci, what a duo!



  1. The earliest lasers used ruby rods. And now, begonias...

    Do the name Ruby Begonia strike a familiar note?

    1. I vaguely remember some Flip Wilson skits with Ruby Begonia.

    2. Yes, with that tag line, riffing off Amos 'n Andy.

    3. Ah, yes. I don't remember that. And I couldn't find any Flip clips doing Ruby Mae Begonia. A few clips with non-PC jokes are out there though.

  2. And 2016 is the year of the BEGONIA . I believe many folks are ready for 2016 to be gone, ya?

    Wait, we still have 31 glorious days to turn things around. Good things will come!

  3. Glorious images, Steph. The blue-leaved Fibonacci golden spiral is worth printing twice!

    jan, we not be ruing the day this year be gone, ya. Every time I see the word "begonia" it conjures GC's "Lake Wobegonia."

    I was too young to hear them on the radio, but I did watch "Amos 'n' Andy" on TV as a young kid. As I recall, Amos was a cab driver who was not central to (m)any of the plots. The main players were low-key Andy and, the real star, Kingfish, whose wife's name was Sapphire... a solid PEOTS name. Episodes are on YouTube. I would have linked to one of them but I feared that Steph would have justifiably pulled my post in the basis of Political Incorrectness.

    "This is important for plants that live on the shady forest floor." A wonderful but seldom used word for vegetation that inhabits this "shady forest floor" is duff. Duff is the kind of stuff you'll find in the deepest recesses of the lowest shelf in my fridge, or in the bottom-most nooks and crannies of my gym duffel bag.


    1. Lego, yes, I, too, thought the Fibonacci spiral was fabulous!

      Duff. Duffer. That makes sense. Also the steamed pudding with fruit in it. That pudding type of duff sounds more fridge- or locker-like.

      Now, bring us some figgy duff, now bring us some figgy duff. . .

  4. Replies
    1. That's wild. But, I think I've mentioned before that the biggest unknown in medicine is the role all the bacteria in the gut. They represent most of the cells and most of the DNA in the body. They get first crack at all the food we eat and all the oral medications we take. And we have no idea even what species most of them are.

    2. jan, I thought about you saying precisely that here before. . .

      Surely there is more gut bacteria study going on?!

    3. Although, sadly, with no or little big pharma interest, maybe there isn't. . .

    4. There's lots of research being done in this field, and I'm sure Pharma is plenty interested.

    5. Wow, there sure is a lot out there, including the periodical named simply GUT !

  5. Lego, for you and Smitten and other feline afficianados: What the cat's tongue's got.

  6. New post on "Obi, the Parrotlet, Laser Goggles, and Air Vortices" is now up. Gotta love a bird wearing laser goggles!