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White beings

December 24, 2010

We are all used to the blue butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea, Fabaceae), but there is a white variety too. Frankly I always thought the blue one was much nicer, and more useful since its pigment can be used for food dyeing. However, when Frank Teng, our Tropical Gardening School student, took a picture I realized the beauty of the white variety. At Dokmai Garden we grow it near a bronze statue of ‘Flora’.

Almost any organism in nature, plants and animals, can lose their ability to make pigments and turn pale, white or translucent. If such a mutation is harmless or even of benefit, then the strain will survive and multiply. If it is harmful to the individual, such as in white elephant or white water buffalo (they are actually more of pig-like pink), they get skin problems and without human care they may die before reproductive age, which is why they are rarely seen. Pale humans (‘whites’) belong to a strain adapted to northern latitudes where sun light is scarce. A pale skin is needed to increase the sun light’s transformation of skin cholesterol to vitamin D. The powerful inbuilt sunscreen in the skin of dark tropical humans may in northern latitudes lead to vitamin D deficiency, which in turn may cause osteoporosis. On the other hand, white northerners may develop skin cancer in tropical environments.

Living organisms change rapidly, something every gardener with experience from seed germination or chicken breeding knows. The gardener makes the selections of his favourite seedlings or chicken, and new varieties are created within a few generations. It is a fantastic experience, and helps you understand evolution. Such plant varieties or chicken breeds are selected by you, so they may not be able to survive without human care.

Eric Danell

A virgin Clitoria can not be used for food dyeing, but it is a lovely ornamental.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2010 11:22 AM

    Just an FYI, I think you’re talking about the condition albinism. Thanks for the credit!

    • December 26, 2010 1:14 PM

      Dear Frank,

      Yes, albinism is the condition of no pigment production. However, white (Caucasian) humans have some pigments, although not as much as tropical humans. In may cases such as eye colour, all colours are due to melanin, but the different colours are due to different amounts, different sizes of melanin granules and different distribution of such grains in cells and organs. A pink pig or elephant is usually pink simply because you can see the red haemoglobin of the blood in the skin capillaries.

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