- Author: Lanie Keystone
NATURE'S PALETTE: The Science of Plant Color
By: David Lee
I had just finished seeing the most delicious 18th art exhibit at the Norton Simon Museum in LA when I wandered into the museum shop. There, a curious book—for an art museum anyway—caught my eye…Nature's Palette: The Science of Plant Color by David Lee. To my way of thinking, the only relation to art is the notion of color in nature. Of course, now I became really curious. 15 minutes later, after being entirely fascinated, I decided to buy the book, take it home and become immersed in the wonderful world of nature's color.
The author, David Lee is a professor of Biological Science at Florida International University as well as Director of The Kampog of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami, FL. So, he comes with his own curiosity about what colors do for the growth of plants…and why they are swirling all about us. After he presents the basic courses in molecular chemistry, biology and optic operations, (yes, get over it and read it so you can enjoy the rest of the book!)—he's really off and running with a passion.
The chapter heads give some indication of the focus and diversity of the book with such topics as “Coloring Our Bodies With Plants; Light, Vision & Color; Leaves; Flowers; Stems & Roots; and Chlorophilia. It's in this final chapter, that he returns to his vision of a color-filled world swirling around all-around in nature—the very notion that started his journey.
Lee begins his book as a bit of an anthropologist—leading us all the way back to the times of Shanidar Neanderthal and King Tut and the influences of plants in early ceremonial lives. He demonstrates how plants and their colors have been used in commerce and trade since earliest times—from dyes and décor to today's cosmetics.
Much of Lee's scientific explorations lead him, as the Guardian states, “to describe the process as zillions of minute brews of organic dyes allowing preferred wavelengths to pass through them, strike the plant tissues, and be scattered and reflected back as colors.” In layman's terms, Lee compares the process to watercolor painting. What an elegant way to view a very complex but exquisite natural process.