The Shiniest Stuff of Life
This African fruit has earned the title of shiniest living material on Earth. It’s from a plant called Pollia condensata, and its candy-painted hues are not the result of traditional pigments like we’re used to seeing in plants. Normally, the greens, yellows, reds and oranges we see in leaves and fruits are deposits of pigmented molecules like carotene or lycopene.
Like the exotic iridescence seen in butterfly wings and jeweled beetles, this berry’s sparkle and shimmer is actually due to complex molecular structures that stack like a series of psychedelic reflectors. Cambridge University biophysicists recently decoded those structures. For more details on the nano-optical magic, visit Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
My question is what does it taste like? Apparently, it’s neither tasty nor nourishing.
NPR on the science behind why it gets so shiny.
Of course, you’re wondering why a plant would go to all this effort. Well, it needs birds to take the fruit and spread its seeds. But its berry has no nutritional value. The scientists at Cambridge think its beautiful advertising is what makes birds pick it up and use it to decorate their nests. It’s just a bauble — but so bright that it fascinates birds as well as physicists.