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Why do plants appear green?

Chlorophyll is a green pigment in the leaves and stems of non-woody plants that gives them their green color. Some plants have leaves that are variegated, which were developed as the plant’s ancestors adapted to their environment.

Chlorophyll, Nature’s Solar Cell

Chlorophyll is a photosynthetic compound that allows plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates. The name is Greek in origin: chloros, which means yellowish-green.

Composition of Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is a chelate. It’s a chemical compound with a magnesium ion in its center. Other elements in chlorophyll are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

Why Green?

Leaves are green because that color allows plants to absorb the sun’s energy in the red and blue-violet parts of the visible light spectrum.

Variegation in Leaves

Variegation in plant leaves often occurs because of a genetic experiment. White variegations are a plant’s inability to produce any pigment on that part of the leaf.

Other Leaf Colors

Some plant leaves, like those on Japanese maples, are not green or are partly other colors because they have less chlorophyll. In the absence of chlorophyll, pigments like xanthophyll (yellow) and carotenoid (orange) show up in the leaf’s color.


University of Wisconsin-Madison: Chemical of the Week: Chlorophyll

UCC – Biology Department: Variegated Plants

University of California Museum of Paleontology: Photosynthetic Pigments

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