This Fruit Is The Shiniest Living Thing On Earth

The fruit shown below isn’t a Christmas decoration; it grows naturally in the forests of Central Africa.

Its vibrant metallic blue colour is actually created by tiny structures in the plant’s cells, researchers led by Silvia Vignolini of the University of Cambridge announced today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

From Ed Yong’s write up on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science:

They belong to a plant called Pollia condensata, a tropical metre-tall herb that sprouts its shiny berry-like fruits in clusters up to 40-strong. These little orbs are iridescent – they use special layers of cells, arranged just so, to reflect colours with extraordinary intensity. This trick relies on the microscopic physical structures of the cells, rather than on any chemical pigments. Indeed, the fruits have no blue pigment at all.

In the animal kingdom, such tricks are commonplace – you can see them at work on the wings of a butterfly, the shells of jewel beetles, or the feathers of pigeons, starlings, birds or paradise and even some dinosaurs. But in the plant world, pigments dominate and structural colours were thought to be non-existent.

The shininess of the fruit tricks birds into eating it and even maybe using its seeds to decorate their nests, even though it doesn’t have a fleshy “fruit-like” part — they are basically a seed-holding shell. Not investing in making a sugary fruit saves the plant energy that it can invest back to making more seeds or growing taller.

Read more at Not Exactly Rocket Science, and see more images below.

Shiny fruitThe fruit of the Pollia condensata plant are the shiniest living things on Earth.

Photo: Vignolini et al, PNAS, 2012

Shiny fruit

Photo: Vignolini et al, PNAS, 2012

Shiny fruitThe internal structures inside the fruit’s cells are what creates the shiny, metallic colours.

Photo: Vignolini et al, PNAS, 2012

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