The flower of Hibiscus trionum is both visibly and measurably iridescent



  • Living organisms can use minute structures to manipulate the reflection of light and display colours based on interference. There has been debate in recent literature over whether the diffractive optical effects produced by epoxy replicas of petals with folded cuticles persist and induce iridescence in the original flowers when the effects of petal pigment and illumination are taken into account.
  • We explored the optical properties of the petal of Hibiscus trionum by macro-imaging, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and visible and ultraviolet (UV) angle-resolved spectroscopy of the petal.
  • The flower of Hibiscus trionum is visibly iridescent, and the iridescence can be captured photographically. The iridescence derives from a diffraction grating generated by folds of the cuticle. The iridescence of the petal can be quantitatively characterized by spectrometric measurements with several square-millimetres of sample area illuminated.
  • The flower of Hibiscus trionum has the potential to interact with its pollinators (honeybees, other bees, butterflies and flies) through iridescent signals produced by its cuticular diffraction grating.