Blue is one of the primary colors, and it is one of the most favorite by many people around the world. But why is the color blue so rare in nature (especially in the plant kingdom)?
The color blue is rare in nature because there are only a few organisms who can create true blue pigment. Most blue organisms in nature actually use the light to appear blue. In this case, blue is the color of the light it doesn't absorb but reflects.
The most common plant pigment is green, because chlorophyll doesn't absorb, but reflects green light. Actually less than 10 percent of the 280,000 species of flowering plants produce blue flowers, let's find out why...
What Makes The Color Blue so Rare in Nature?
Almost everyone across the globe would agree that blue is a superior color, regardless of its shade.
Blue, just like in most of our synthetic things, is also prominent in our natural environment. It is the color of the skies and the oceans. We frequently see this color everywhere, and it undoubtedly can captivate our attention as it is a refreshing visual appearance.
However, unlike its popularity among human beings, the color blue in nature is rarely to be found. It is rare to witness this on living organisms in our environment, especially in the plant kingdom. It is ironic how blue can be so influential on earth, and yet it is almost as never to be seen in the natural environment that we have.
The color blue is so rare in our environment because most of the plants and animals contain pigments that that can change the wavelength of light to make it appear blue. These are not true blue pigments. The only animal known to men that can make BLUE PIGMENTS is the obrina olivewing butterfly (see picture).
Perhaps, seeing a true blue living organism is one of the most astonishing encounters you could ever have. Considering it is so unusual, you can only wish for luck to see one. People might think that blue is a natural color for flowers. However, this is not true. Most of the blue flowers produced today are only a product of artificial processes that are usually done by florists. It is to supply a flower shop with a variety of options.
Many also thought the butterflies are mostly blue since it is generally portrayed on television, especially in a cartoon. Just like in flowers, this is not entirely true.
The truth is, blue is exceptional.
There is a slim chance that you could witness this on plants, or even in animals. And when you surprisingly have the chance to see one, you will feel lucky because not everyone is allowed to see true blue pigments.
Here are some explanations to enlighten you:
There is No Real Blue Color or Pigment in Nature
Actually there are plant pigments that appear red to blue to the human eye. This pigment is called anthocyanins (literally "flower blue"). These are water-soluble flavonoid pigments.
However, both plants and animals perform a trick using light to make the blue color appear. This has something to do with the spectrum of light. For a plant to appear blue, it has to modify its red pigment to make it appear blue. They do this through a variety of modifications involving pH shifts and mixing of pigments, molecules, and ions.
Mixing the Available Pigments can Make Plants to Achieve Blue
Just like an artist, plants blend colors until it can have a new visual appearance. The commonly used pigment is red. It is called anthocyanins, which can change its look by varying acidity. These alterations, when combined with the reflected light, can result in spectacular outputs like delphiniums, plumbago, bluebells, hydrangeas, dayflowers, morning glories, and cornflowers.
Often times breeders of plants use different kinds of techniques (see picture below) to develop blue flowers or plants. They do that by linking different types of DNA from different plants in order to make the right DNA.
Picture by: USGovernment
Real Blue Flowers are Actually Very Unique
But for leaves, there are almost no species that have it, except those that are found on the floor of tropical rainforests. The main reason for this is the physics of light. Almost all plants are green. It is because most of them have chlorophyll, which they need for the process of photosynthesis. Plants appear green because chlorophyll does not absorb, but instead reflects the green light.
Plants can be reflected as blue because it has more energy than any other light in the visible spectrum. So if a plant has blue leaves, it means that it is reflecting the highest energy of light, which, however, is not good for growth. It is why most plants avoid it.
Animals are Evolved to Have Different Colors
Whether it is to attract other animals or to repel them, animals have been evolved to be best at what they need to do in order to survive.
For example, flamingos are color pink because it is the dye of the favorite food they are eating. Shrimp and the golden color of goldfish also came from the meals they are consuming. Some plants or animals contain these pigments (carotenoids) that can change the color of an animal.
However, for blue, there are no pigments or ingredients that you can eat to become blue. They can not just turn themselves into this appearance though their food consumption. So, blue is special and here is why.
Animals can achieve blue by making structures that can change the wavelength of light. It is different from mixing or alteration that is done by plants. As an example, the blue morpho butterfly takes its hue from its wing's scales that are shaped in ridges. This causes light to bend in such a way that the only wavelength of light it can reflect is blue. If the scales happened to be differently shaped, it will not be achievable to display the blue color.
Meanwhile, bluebirds like the blue jay, also achieve their color through a similar but slightly different process. Each of their feathers is light-scattering, microscopic beads that are placed in a way that every wavelength light is canceled out, except for blue.
While there is a claim that no true blue pigment is present in plants and animals, there is only one exception in nature. It is the obrina olivewing butterfly. It is the only animal species known to produce a real blue pigment.
The World Of Blue Organisms
Achieving a color blue in nature is a hard task. Not every living organism can have this ability. However, it is hard to accept this because nature needs variety.
For flowering plants, having different colored petals can help to attract a unique pollinator. Recent studies have shown that color preferences of pollinating bees have influenced the diversity of flowers we see in our environment today. It includes the color blue.
Being stagnant is boring. There needs to be a variation, even in nature. It is why green, as the main color of our landscape, can be very suffocating at times and that is why nature will find its ways to trick the human eye into seeing all kinds of different colors. Red, green, yellow, purple, brown, black, and many other colors, including blue on rare occasions.
Since blue is a very rare color in nature, you must make the most out of it when you see it. You will never know if you can find a true blue organism ever again.