We often see pinks and purples in nature, but why is the color blue so rare?

Winter is here and it makes me miss the vibrant colors of spring, summer, and fall. I personally LOVE yellow. I love Sunflowers, Coreopsis, Daisies, Goldfinches, and Blue-Ringed Octopus. I’m not super picky though. I just love color! I love Butterfly Weed, Zinnia, Hibiscus, Purple Beautyberry, Cuttlefish, Common Sea Dragons, Giraffes… the list can go on forever, but all of them have something in common – none are blue.

What about Blue Jays or certain tree frogs? They’re intensely blue. In the plant world, Bluets, Big Leaf Hydrangea, or Grape Hyacinth flowers are blue.

bluits small
These little bluets even have the word “blue” in their name, yet look closer. Are they blue or actually purple?

Or are they?

Short answer – it’s all a scam. The brain has been tricked into seeing blue – there aren’t any true blue pigments in nature.

Long answer – Animals and plants typically ingest pigments, or colors, from their food. Many birds, such as Cardinals, Robins, and Goldfinches eat foods that allow their body to process the pigments and have more vibrant plumage. For example, baby flamingos start out grey. Through their life, flamingos eat shrimp and algae that have a pigment called “Carotenoids” which allow them to turn a brilliant pink as they mature. This specific pigment is also in tree leaves and when Chlorophyll disappears, they get to show off.

We may see animals that look blue, such as Blue Jays, Blue Morpho Butterflies, or Poison Dart Frogs, but are they really blue? No. They are a dingy brown-gray color but have structures on them such as keratin and chitin on bird wings, prisms of butterfly scales, and iridophores on frog skin all shine and reflect colors that the brain interprets as blue.

Other animals and plants have developed a color mixer that takes different pigments and minerals and blends them to give the appearance of blue. For example, when blending a type of Anthocyanin and Iron, tulips can seem blue. There are three types of anthocyanins – 1) Pelargonidin (orange-pinkish) 2) Cyanidin (reddish-purple) and 3) Delphinidin (violet-blue). This Delphinidin pigment when combined with the right minerals (which can raise or lower soil pH) will present itself as a blue color in flowers such as Delphiniums, Bluebells, Hydrangeas (think back to the soil pH impacting if they’re pink or blue), and Morning Glories.

grape hyacinth small
These Grape Hyacinths (Muscari sp.) look very blue against the pink in the background, yet they still aren’t a “true blue” flower!

Next time they bloom, look at all of those plants you thought were blue and study them! Many are actually varying shades of purple! Pick up that Blue Jay feather you found on the ground and hold it up to the sun. Suddenly it’ll look brown because you’re not looking at the reflective part!

Nature is amazing and it reminds us that not everything is as it first appears. Things in nature require a second, closer look and once you take the time to look deeper, you’ll find out how complicated, intricate, and beautiful the world really is!

Fascinated by plant and animal colors like I am? Add any of these photos to your collection! Wearing blue soon? Get any one of these photos turned into a pendant to perfectly coordinate! OR – Check out my Products page to learn how to place an order for anything and use these photo names:

  • Bluets
  • Muscari sp. (Grape Hyacinth)
  • Anthocyanin Levels (Pinks and Purples)

Check out these links for more information about the color blue and how plants and animals have been able to trick us!

Animals and their Pigmentation

The Biochemistry of Anythocyanins and their Hydroxyl groups

Iridophores in Poison Dart Frogs

Blue Flowers

2 Comments on “Why do we always see purples and reds in plants, yet rarely blue?”

  1. Pingback: Colors of the Rainbow as Seen in the Garden – The Art of Ecology

  2. Pingback: Classic Blue – Pantone Color of the Year – The Art of Ecology

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