Science shines light on buttercup mystery

The strong yellow reflection is mainly due to the epidermal layer of the petal that reflects yellow light with an intensity comparable to glass.

hidden December 14, 2011 13:41:13 IST
Science shines light on buttercup mystery

London: It's a phenomenon that has perplexed generations of researchers —why buttercups glow yellow under people's chins?

Now, British scientists claim to have cracked the mystery as to why buttercups glow yellow under people's chins — and it has absolutely nothing to do with traditional idea that it proves they like butter.

A team at Cambridge University has, in fact, found that the phenomenon is due to the way the flower's layered petals work together to attract pollinating insects. "Our research provides exciting insight into not only a children's game but also into the lengths to which flowers will go to attract pollinators," the Daily Mirror quoted Dr Beverley Glover, who led the team, as saying.

Science shines light on buttercup mystery

Scientists have found that the buttercup reflects a significant amount of UV light. Alan Vernon. via Flickr

The scientists discovered that the buttercup petal's bright and glossy appearance is the result of the interplay between its different layers. The strong yellow reflection responsible for the chin illumination is mainly due to the epidermal layer of the petal that reflects yellow light with an intensity which is comparable to glass.

The scientists also found that the buttercup reflects a significant amount of UV light. As many pollinators, including bees, have eyes sensitive in UV region, this provides insight into how the buttercup uses its appearance to attract insects.

It was previously shown that the reflected colour is yellow due to the absorption of the colours in the blue-green region of the spectrum by the pigment in the petals.

Dr Silvia Vignolini, a team member, added: "Although many different factors, such as scent and temperature, influence the relationships between pollinators and flowers, the visual appearance of flowers is one of the most important factors in this communication... Flowers develop brilliant colour, or additional cues, such as glossiness — in the case of the buttercup — that contribute to making the optical response of the flower unique. Moreover, the glossiness might also mimic the presence of nectar droplets on the petals, making them that much more attractive."

PTI 

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Science shines light on buttercup mystery
News & Analysis

Science shines light on buttercup mystery

The strong yellow reflection is mainly due to the epidermal layer of the petal that reflects yellow light with an intensity comparable to glass.