True Black

Black seems to go with everything. It is a sleek and powerful color. This is a fact not lost on many plant breeders. Much work has been done to produce flower varieties that exhibit pure black coloration. This is not an easy task as true black is not a pigment that plants have readily available to utilize. By breeding plants with increased amounts of anthocyanin pigments in their petals, breeders have been able to produce some varieties that are either so red or so violet that, to us, they appear jet black. It was long thought that all black flowers simply did not exist in the wild but a gentian from Central America blows that assumption out of the water.

Meet Lisianthius nigrescens. Often referred to as the “Flor de Muerto,” this striking gentian produces the most extraordinarily jet black flowers known in the plant kingdom. Indeed, researchers have looked at the pigments responsible for the black coloration and found that they do in fact absorb all wavelengths in the visible spectrum of light. Thus these flowers are truly black.

It was suspected that, with their long, tubular shape, they must attract animals like hummingbirds for pollination and therefore must emit light high in UV wavelengths. Nope. Other pigments in the flowers also absorb all UV light. These flowers are about as black as it gets! Field observations actually found that bees are the primary pollinators of this species. Whats more, the flowers are virtually scentless. How exactly this plant attracts pollinators remains a mystery, a fact I much enjoy about the natural world.

Photo Credit: Lauren Zarate and the Biodiversity Heritage Library http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/37532042

Further Reading: http://www.znaturforsch.com/ac/v59c/s59c0625.pdf