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Do red leaves photosynthesise?

ResearchBlogging.orgIn Temperate regions, two distinct processes are involved when leaves change colour in the Fall. Yellow and orange colours reflect carotenoid pigments that are already present in the leaves. Reds reflect something different – anthocyanins that are produced as part of the process of senescence.

The red colours produced by pointsettias represent something different. In this case, leaves change colour in order to advertise the (relatively inconspicuous) flowers to pollinators. Pomar and Ros Barceló asked the question of whether these leaves are photosynthetically active – after all, that’s a lot of leaf area to sacrifice just for reproduction. Their findings?

Both red and green poinsettia leaves are able to use photons efficiently to perform photosynthesis in the range of irradiances common on the Earth’s surface.

At lower light levels green leaves are better at photosynthesis than red ones, but at the level of sunlight you’d expect to see on a sunny day, the differences were very small. However, red leaves aren’t very good at dissipating excess energy. However, they compensate for this by having the red anthocyanins which absorb some of the incoming radiation.

Pomar, F., Ros Barceló, A. (2007). Are red leaves photosynthetically active?. Biologia Plantarum, 51(4), 799-800. DOI: 10.1007/s10535-007-0164-z

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5 Responses

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Matt Hanson

  2. This reminds me of a conversation a friend and I had walking home from the lab one day. We went past a red maple and began to speculate about what the world would look like if red was the most efficient pigment and most of the plant life was red.

    Imagine how much of the culture it would change–the Red movement for the environment. The coolness of the lush red forest….?

    Mary

  3. Yeah, that is a fun thought…but how would our visual acuity be different? Would red still be the colour of passion if it were all around us?

  4. And just in the nick of time, Greg Laden posts this article about colour preference and perception.

  5. […] Get more information about this from the author here […]

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