Xanthophylls

I’m always happy to draw an X in Scrabble, but so far this has been the most challenging letter for this A to Z challenge. I considered writing about the obvious– X-rays, but don’t have any cool X-rays I could use, and besides, what would I say about X-rays? Hmmm…what if I could have X-ray vision? Maybe not so exciting if all I could see were bones, fascinating though they might be for a science nerd like me, but what if I could see not just bones, but all that is hidden inside all sorts of things…

But, lacking X-ray vision, I decided on Xanthophylls, a group of yellow and orange pigments found in many plants and animals. Lutein is a xanthophyll pigment that makes egg yolks yellow and that we have in our eyes that protects our eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. It’s also found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale, turnip greens, and collards, which is one of many reasons they’re good for us. Salmon and shrimp get their pinkish-orange color from astaxanthin, another xanthophyll, that has anti-inflammatory and other healthful effects.

More interesting to me as an artist, xanthophylls are the pigments responsible for the beautiful yellow and golden colors we see in fall leaves. What I find fascinating is that they are there in the leaves all through the summer, but there’s so much green chlorophyll that the yellow pigments (as well as red pigments) are masked, until the chlorophyll begins to degrade in the fall. But even though we can’t see the xanthophylls all summer, they are performing valuable functions for the leaf.

One function is to capture light of wavelengths that the chlorophyll can’t absorb. After converting that light to energy, the xanophyll passes the energy along to the chlorophyll, which uses it to make sugars. I really like the idea that the xanthophylls quietly perform this important support function for the more visible chlorophyll. Another function the xanthophylls perform is to protect the leaf from excess sunlight which could damage it. They do this by converting the light into heat and dissipating it.

Along with many other landscape painters, by the end of the summer I am tired of painting green. It can be difficult to mix greens to realistic foliage colors, and too much green in a painting can be monotonous. I’m always eager for the kaleidoscope of autumn colors to appear and transform the landscape. It fascinates me to think of those colors that I so eagerly anticipate being there all along, working quietly behind the scenes.

Thinking about that now, as green is emerging everywhere, makes me wonder how much beauty there is in all the world, and even in people, that is currently hidden from my sight. If I just had X-ray vision that would enable me to see beyond the ordinary to the beauty beneath the surface!

A to Z April Blogging X

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