psychedelic spring: in praise of anthocyanins
I LOVE THEM IN FALL, AND IN EARLIEST SPRING, TOO: ANTHOCYANINS, the plant pigments that paint the early and late seasons in a psychedelic palette. Looking for me this week? I’ll be crawling around on my knees in search of another hit of the good stuff, like the species peonies (above), which are really wild right now. Meet some more colorful characters:
The common bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis (epecially the gold-leaf cultivar ‘Gold Heart’), gives the peonies a run for their money; so does Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf) and many heucheras. Scientists postulate that in some cases anthocyanins, flavonoid pigments which are often masked in the main growing season by the green of chlorophyll, may either serve to deter herbivores from nibbling tender new shoots or perhaps help attract pollinators, a kind of lurid “come hither” ensemble. If you don’t look like a leaf, maybe nobody will eat you–and looking like a flower extra-early increases your chance of getting pollinated when your flowers come not too long afterward.
These pigments probably taste bad, too, compared to green ones–another deterrent to nibbling–and may help also tender young leaves cope with excess light (meaning the pigments are “photoprotective“).
Whatever the particulars, I am happy to crawl around enjoying it, camera in hand. Crawl around with me in a quick slideshow? (Click the first thumbnail to start the slides, then navigate from image to image using the arrows beside the captions.)