There’s a reason blue flowers are worth talking about. Blue is a colour that is infrequent in nature according to David Lee, a retired professor of the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University, Miami.
Flowering plants are rarely blue. The color is typically the result of mutations and quirks of nature. But we live in a generally progressive world and artificial methods of making flowers blue have been researched. Dyeing and pigment mixing has been tried in the past. These methods have been largely unsuccessful in making blue flowers. Some gene scientists have found success using more effective scientific methods.
Chrysanthemums are usually pink, yellow or red. Research has shown that less than ten percent of all flowering plants produce blue colored petals. The color blue just doesn’t sit well with most pretty flowers. However, very recently, history was rewritten when a group of Japanese scientists genetically engineered a chrysanthemum to produce a blue hue.
These scientists took genes from other blue flowers, butterfly peas and Canterbury bells and stirred them into the chrysanthemum’s genes. The resulting color was blue chrysanthemums which were caused by a chemical process called “co-pigmentation”. The researchers hope that they can color other flowers blue using this process.
Why most plants don’t do blue
Blue is an unnatural color for plants because there is no blue pigment in them. Most flowering plants have red pigments called anthocyanin. This anthocyanin is typically responsible for the color of red roses.
Through some floral experimentation, nature can sometimes tweak anthocyanin so that it produces blue flowers. Nature is able to do this by modifying the pH levels of the flower and mixing pigments with ions and molecules.
That explains the naturally occurring blue orchids and dayflowers you can buy in your neighborhood flower shop. However, the genetic geniuses who made the blue chrysanthemums admitted that they were able to change the natural color of the flowers by modifying the anthocyanin structure of the plants.
The team believes that the methods they used on the blue chrysanthemums can produce blue carnations and lilies on a mass scale. This hints of the future, a future where scientists change nature to suit our whims.
Effects on pollination and horticulture
Blue flowers are not known to affect the pollination instincts of insects or birds. These animals can generally detect the wavelength that is the color blue and do not see it as a repellent of any sort. They are just another source of food to insects and birds.
The horticultural community worldwide however, is of the opinion that the ability to rear true blue prize garden flowers would be a phenomenon. Roses, snapdragons and tulips are among top contenders on the list of “Most Likely to Become a Blue Flower”. Chemical horticulturists are determined to make blue variations of these flowers. Some chemists have tried to use delphinidin (the pigment that makes violas and delphiniums blue) on roses. They succeeded in making a purple rose. They have not been able to turn these garden flowers blue yet.
People love novelty and will continue to actively seek out plants with blue hues in their flowers to fill up their gardens. This quest would however also be applicable to the sustainable manufacture of artificial pigments. Producing these flowers would be a complex achievement for science.
But don’t expect to be picking up such flower bouquets just yet. Most countries require permits to sell genetically modified flowers that may destroy whole eco-systems. So, we’ll wait on the laws to be sorted out before ladies can throw blue bouquets at their weddings.