07 March 2014

These berries are not blue

They look blue, but they have no pigment.  The appearance of color is generated by iridescence, as explained at Ed Yong's Not Exactly Rocket Science:
These little orbs are iridescent – they use special layers of cells, arranged just so, to reflect colours with extraordinary intensity. This trick relies on the microscopic physical structures of the cells, rather than on any chemical pigments. Indeed, the fruits have no blue pigment at all.

In the animal kingdom, such tricks are commonplace – you can see them at work on the wings of a butterfly, the shells of jewel beetles, or the feathers of pigeons, starlings, birds or paradise and even some dinosaurs. But in the plant world, pigments dominate and structural colours
were thought to be non-existentare much rarer...

It was collected from Ghana in 1974 but it’s still as vivid as ever. (Unlike pigments, structural colours don’t degrade, so the fruits will retain their sheen for decades to come. Some fossils still keep their iridescence.)..

As light hits the top layer, some gets reflected and the rest passes through. The same thing happens at the next layer, and the next, and so on. Provided the layers are exactly the right distance apart, the reflected beams of light amplify each other to produce exceptionally strong colours. The technical term is “multilayer interference”. Or alternatively: “Ooh, shiny!”
More at the link about the evolutionary aspects of this adaptation.  Via Ephemeral Curios, a science- and nature-oriented blog by a TYWKIWDBI reader.


  1. I love this blog! Please don't ever stop!
    Best wishes from Shannon in Ottawa, Canada.

  2. "Ohhh, shiny!" Indeed!

    I third the motion to never stop blogging. I visit your blog everyday :)

  3. Warning: philosophical meanderings (and possible pedantry) on the nature of color to follow. Bare with me. It will pass. : )

    "Not blue" doesn't seem like the right description.

    If I said this blue LED isn't blue, or the blue in that rainbow or oil slick isn't blue or the sky / ocean isn't blue I feel like I would be wrong. Yet none of those things contain blue pigment.

    Blue is an experience that occurs in our brains, or a net wavelength of light (possibly the sum of many interfering waves) striking our retinas. Blue pigments just happen to have the property that they reflect wavelengths in that region preferentially.

    It might even be more fair to say that blue pigments aren't blue at all. In a room illuminated by only red light they appear black. Or in a room illuminated only by radio waves or x-rays they are not visible at all.

    Never the less the berries are quite lovely. Thanks for posting.

    1. Pedantry is always welcome at TYWKIWDBI.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...