Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that flowers have nanoscale ridges that create a ‘blue halo’ when viewed from certain angles. These blue halo’s are able to attract bees to the flower.
Although these ridges and grooves may vary, both on individual petals and also between different species of flower, they all produce a very similar blue halo effect.
Professor Beverly Glover, plant scientist at the University of Cambridge, had this to say: “We had always assumed that the disorder we saw in our petal surfaces was just an accidental by-product of life – that flowers couldn’t do any better. It came as a real surprise to discover that the disorder itself is what generates the important optical signal that allows bees to find the flowers more effectively.”
Studies done in the past have shown that many bee species have an innate preference for colours in the violet-blue range. The researchers artificially recreated ‘blue halo’ nanostructures and used them as surfaces for artificial flowers in a lab. Bees were then able to detect the difference between flowers with a blue halo and those without.
A sugar solution was in one type of artificial flower and the other with a bitter quinine solution and found that bees used the blue halos to learn which surface had the reward. All flowering plants belong to angiosperm lineage. Researchers analysed some of the earliest diverging plants from this species, and found no evidence of halo-producing petal ridges.
Dr Silvia Vignolini, from the University of Cambridge, said: “The huge variety of petal anatomies, combined with the disordered nanostructures, would suggest that different flowers should have different optical properties. However, we observed that all these petal structures produce a similar visual effect in the blue-to-ultraviolet wavelength region of the spectrum – the blue halo.”

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