The biology of rudraksha

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Rudraksha, used throughout India and Southeast Asia in religious jewellery, is the stony endocarp of a tree distributed from northern Australia to southern Nepal. This article summarizes its biology, particularly recent research on the remarkable fruit colour. The iridescent blue colour is caused by a remarkable structure an 'iridosome'. It is secreted by the epidermal cell, and is located above the plasmalemma and beneath the adaxial wall. Cellulosic layers within the iridosome constructively interfere with blue wavelengths, causing an intense colour production at 439 nm. This colour persists in senescing fruits and may enhance their dispersal. The transparency of the cuticle at longer wavelengths allows photosynthesis to occur in the fleshy green exocarp tissue, enhancing the carbon balance of the tree. More research will certainly reveal the evolution of this remarkable phenomenon, as well as the origins of the rudraksha's cultural use.

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