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Alpine Adaptation: Red is the New Black

By Charles J. Zimmerman

Sep 27 2019

Hairs are one way to deflect damaging UV radiation while locking in the sun's much needed heat at high-elevations. Another adaptation suited to the mission which is common among Alpine plants is an increased presence of chemical pigments known as Anthocyanins in leaves and stems which adds a dark reddish tint that is especially pronounced in spring. Like wearing dark clothes on a sunny day, these pigments help convert more light into heat, which warms plant tissues and helps to protect against chill Alpine temperatures. These pigments are present in the leaves, stems, and also the showy flower bracts of this specimen of Greater Red Indian-paintbrush.

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Zwinger, A.H. & Willard B.E. (1972). Land Above the Trees. Harper & Row Publishers.