DIY





How Flowers Get Their Colors

Find out the scientific explanation of how flowers get their coloring.

| June 2018

Ask a Science Teacher (The Experiment, 2011) by Larry Scheckel is sure to resolve the everyday mysteries you’ve always wondered about. You’ll learn how planes really fly, why the Earth is round, how microwaves heat food, and much more — before you know it, all your friends will be asking you! This section answers how flowers get their colors.

The pigment anthocyanin gives color to most flowers and fruits. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments in a class of chemicals called flavonoids. A pigment is an organic compound that gives a characteristic color to plant or animal tissue. For example, chlorophyll gives the green color to plant leaves and stems. Hemoglobin gives blood its red color.

Flavonoids, compounds found in many vegetables and fruits, have antioxidant properties. Some flavonoids protect blood vessel walls, some alleviate allergies, and some defend against cancer and viruses. Others have anti-inflammatory properties.

The flower colors of blue, purple, pink, and red come from anthocyanins. Plants produce other pigments, too, like carotene, which makes the orange of carrot roots and the red of tomatoes; chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color; and xanthophyll, which makes foods like egg yolks and corn yellow.



A common experiment uses the anthocyanins in red cabbage as a pH indicator, because anthocyanins change color depending on their pH. A strip of paper treated with red cabbage juice will turn red if placed in an acidic (low-pH) solution and green/yellow if placed in a basic (high-pH) solution. The strip will remain purple if placed in a neutral-pH solution.

Colors are instrumental in a flowering plant’s reproduction. Flowers reproduce by having male organs called stamens, loaded with pollen, and female organs named stigmas. The function of the stigma is to receive pollen from another plant of the same species. But plants can’t move, so they rely on insects and birds to move their pollen for them. The bright flower petals attract insects and birds to the nectar or edible pollen produced by the plants. Yellow flowers are an advertisement for bees, and red attracts birds.






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