An absorbing-layer-stack model allows quantitative analysis of the light flux in flowers and the resulting reflectance spectra. It provides insight in how plants can optimize their flower coloration for attracting pollinators.
The coloration of flowers is due to the combined effect of pigments and light-scattering structures. To interpret flower coloration, we applied an optical model that considers a flower as a stack of layers, where each layer can be treated with the Kubelka-Munk theory for diffusely scattering and absorbing media. We applied our model to the flowers of the Chilean Bellflower, Nolana paradoxa, which have distinctly different-colored adaxial and abaxial sides. We found that the flowers have a pigmented, strongly scattering upper layer, in combination with an unpigmented, moderately reflecting lower layer. The model allowed quantitative interpretation of the reflectance and transmittance spectra measured with an integrating sphere. The absorbance spectrum of the pigment measured with a microspectrophotometer confirmed the spectrum derived by modeling. We discuss how different pigment localizations yield different reflectance spectra. The absorbing layer stack model aids in understanding the various constraints and options for plants to tune their coloration.