Researchers develop mathematical model of flowers' iridescence

Jan 10, 2013
How does your garden glow?

(Phys.org)—Nature's ability to create iridescent flowers has been recreated by mathematicians at The University of Nottingham. The team of researchers have collaborated with experimentalists at the University of Cambridge to create a mathematical model of a plant's petals to help us learn more about iridescence in flowering plants and the role it may play in attracting pollinators.

An iridescent surface appears to change colour as you alter the angle you view it from. It is found in the animal kingdom in insects, inside and in feathers, and is also seen in some plants. Iridescence in flowers may act as a signal to pollinators such as bumble-bees, which are crucial to crop production.

Understanding how petals produce iridescence to attract pollinators is a major goal in . An estimated 35 per cent of global crop production depends on petal-mediated animal pollination but a decrease in pollinator numbers across the world has started to limit the odds of pollination and reduce crop production rates.

Flowers and the animals that pollinate plants interact at the petal surface. The surfaces of many petals have regular patterns, produced from folds of the waterproof cuticle layer that covers all . These patterns can interfere with light to produce strong optical effects including iridescent colours, and might also influence animal grip.

Iridescence in plants is produced by nanoscale ridges on the top of the cells in the petal's epidermal surface. These tiny ridges produce structures called diffraction gratings. The particular shape and spacing of these ridges and the shape of the cells sculpt the outermost layer of the petal giving it a unique physical, mechanical or optical property. These properties interfere with different creating the colour variation when it is seen at different angles. Pollinators, such as , can detect the iridescent signal produced by petal nanoridges and can learn to use this signal as a cue to identify rewarding flowers.

The research has been published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface. Rea Antoniou Kourounioti, a PhD student in the School of Biosciences, said: "We provide a first analysis of how petal surface patterns might be produced. Our team of researchers combined experimental data with mathematical modelling to develop a biomechanical model of the outer layers of a petal or leaf. We used this to demonstrate that mechanical buckling of the outermost, waxy cuticle layer, can create the ridge patterns observed in nature on petals and leaves. Learning more about how is produced is important for pollination of crops and also for other types of patterning in biology."

Explore further: Adding uncertainty to improve mathematical models

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bees attracted by floral iridescence

Jan 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Plants and their pollinators are the focus of ground-breaking research by Dr Heather Whitney, recently appointed Lloyds Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences. Her latest work, carried ...

Flower power: How to get ahead in advertising

Feb 03, 2012

Some plants go to extraordinary lengths to attract pollinators. A unique collaboration between plant scientists and physicists is revealing the full extent of botanical advertising.

Study sheds light on microscopic flower petal ridges

Dec 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Microscopic ridges contouring the surface of flower petals might play a role in flashing that come-hither look pollinating insects can't resist. Michigan State University scientists and colleagues ...

Recommended for you

Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

12 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A 17-year old bet among scientists at the Karolinska Institute has been a wager that whoever wrote the most articles with Dylan quotes before they retired would get a free lunch. Results included ...

Adding uncertainty to improve mathematical models

13 hours ago

Mathematicians from Brown University have introduced a new element of uncertainty into an equation used to describe the behavior of fluid flows. While being as certain as possible is generally the stock and ...

At the interface of math and science

13 hours ago

In popular culture, mathematics is often deemed inaccessible or esoteric. Yet in the modern world, it plays an ever more important role in our daily lives and a decisive role in the discovery and development ...

Recessions result in lower birth rates in the long run

15 hours ago

While it is largely understood that birth rates plummet when unemployment rates soar, the long-term effects have never been clear. Now, new research from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public ...

User comments : 0