UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
If a plant didn't have chlorophyll, what color would it be?
Question Date: 2010-10-20
Answer 1:

This question is pretty easy to answer right now in Wisconsin because we can just look out the window and see. I see brilliant reds, golds, oranges, and browns. These are the colors left behind when the chlorophyll disappears.

Chlorophyll is important for doing photosynthesis, as you probably know. It breaks down when its exposed to light, so during the long days of the year, new chlorophyll keeps being delivered to the leaves. Its expensive for the plant to make it, so before a plant loses its leaves, it stops making and delivering new chlorophyll. The old chlorophyll still breaks down, leaving behind the pigments that last longer. Theres a great site about this at


You can look at the pictures if the leaves dont do a lot of color changing in your town. Why do you think so many trees lose their leaves for the winter? Hint: We get a lot of snow around here.

Thanks for asking,

Answer 2:

If plants don't have chlorophyll they are usually not green.There's actually a condition some plants can have which cause them to not make enough chorophyll -- this condition is called chlorosis. Plants with chlorosis are pale, yellow, or yellow-white. However, there are some plants that naturally don't make chlorophyll. Because they don't have chlorophyll, and plants need chlorophyll to turn sunlight into energy, the plants without chlorophyll are parasites (they have to get their energy by stealing it from another plant). The two major types of plants that don't make chlorophyll and survive as parasites are Broomrape (Orobanche) and the Dodders (Cuscuta) -- here's a website that talks about them:


These plants that don't have chlorophyll are yellow, orange, or red, but rarely green.

Answer 3:

Many plants become brown without chlorophyll. Consider the leaves of trees in the fall. The leaves loose their chlorophyll when they die, turning brownish orange.


Answer 4:

Well, one example of this happening is when leaves on a tree change color in the fall. When the tree prepares to go into hibernation, it stops producing chlorophyll. While chlorophyll is usually the main pigment in plants, there can also be other pigments present, including carotenoids (yellow-orange) and anthocyanins (red). These other pigment molecules are responsible for the different shades of green you find in plants. When chlorophyll is no longer being produced, the other pigments show through (for example, red, orange and yellow leaves in the fall). These pigment molecules all have the same basic function - to absorb specific colors (wavelengths) of light and convert that light energy into sugar. Chlorophyll can absorb red and blue light, but cannot absorb green light, so green light is reflected back and that is what we see. Carotenoids reflect (cannot absorb) yellow-orange light and so they appear to be yellow-orange, anthocyanins are red because they reflect red light, etc.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use