I'm a sucker for new growth and I especially love how some plants such as hostas, peonies, bleeding hearts etc. all pop up with slight tints of red and purple. The pigments responsible, known as anthocyanins, are unlike the pigments for orange and yellow which are present in the leaves all year long and masked by the green pigment of chlorophyll.
Anthocyanins are a little different, they are produced only when needed and since their main purpose is to help block out harmful sunlight, this is often during spring and fall when the new growth emerges from the ground and when leaves are falling from the trees. The anthocyanins coat the inner surface of the leaf and block out harmful sun rays which during spring allows young tender shoots to acclimatize to the sunlight and in fall allows the plant to absorb any important nutrients or chemicals into its trunk and root system before the leaf falls.
This is the same reason why red colouring in fall shows better some years than others. If there is plenty of sunlight and heat, you will end up with a striking red while cloudy cool days in fall will lead to a poorer show.
So why do I love anthocyanins so much in the spring, well...because along with the sunlight protection it also helps the young plants to avoid being eaten by critters and such. Being purple, they don't look like a leaf, and if I'm looking for leaves to eat I'll probably pass over you in my search, and if I'm a pollinator searching for early flowers, the purple colour may attract me and keep me around long enough for the actual flowers to be produced. So its a simple and effective way of ensuring plants get a great start to the year which means a healthier and better looking plant in the summer!
So join me as I crawl about the ground searching for plants who, having just poked their heads, are looking a little more flower-like than usual! Oh, and when you eat an eggplant, a grape or a blueberry, remember that these too get their colouring from these lovely anthocyanins! Brightening out spring, our food and our days!