Bioluminescent plants seem like a thing you’d find in a science fiction movie or novel, but thanks to modern innovations and inspiration from marine bacteria, fungi, and fireflies, a glowing plant can exist and be an interesting new decor piece for your bedroom, bathroom, or any other area you’d usually place a night light or candle, or if you just want to add a calming, ethereal vibe to any space you occupy.
Are There Any Bioluminescent Plants or Plants That Glow in Reality?
While there are not any instances of natural bioluminescent plants, phosphorescent living organisms do exist. Some types of fungi and marine bacteria can take on an ethereal glow that has inspired the trend of bioluminescent houseplants. These natural inspirations are also being used to modify existing plants’ genomes to create an artificial glow in the dark plant from within, without relying on the use of spray-on or topical products.
Species or Plants That Glow in the Dark Naturally
There are no plants that naturally glow in the dark, though there are some examples of bioluminescence that exists in nature with the following species:
- Foxfire fungi (Panellus stipitcus, Omphalotus olearius, Omphalotus nidiformis): these fungi get their glow from an enzyme found in decaying wood known as “luciferase” which reacts with a luciferin (present in luciferase) to produce a fairytale-like glow.
- Marine life (jellyfish, anglerfish, bacteria, dinoflagellates): when bioluminescence is found in animals, it is usually for mating or communicating or as a way to startle predators or lure in prey.
- Glowworms (Arachnocampa sp.): Arachnocampa luminosa is a species of worms often found in caves in New Zealand and Australia. They exhibit bioluminescence as a form of predation on their prey, using the lights to lure unsuspecting creatures into their webs.
- Fireflies (Photuris lucicrescens): another type of beetle (like the larval glowworm) that have adopted a luminescent quality to their bodies in order to attract mates. They can use a flash pattern of their glowing abdomen to communicate.
Can We Create Glow in the Dark Plants?
The market for glow-in-the-dark plants is seemingly endless amongst those who have always dreamt of a fairytale world or wished to bring some ethereal elements of oceanic bioluminescence into their home. Some companies are utilizing photoluminescent compounds in the form of sprays to apply to plants to create an artificially glowing appearance, while other companies are working on splicing genes of bioluminescent compounds found in mushrooms or other naturally-occurring sources into plants to produce a genetically modified glowing plant.
How to Make Glowing Plants?
While not an easy or “beginner” craft, you can make your own glowing plants at home if you’re able to get your hands on some specific tools and ingredients.
- Obtain the ingredients, which include strontium aluminate, gloves, a hand sprayer, clear gloss melamine, marble, measuring teaspoons and cups, and a plant of your choice. The best type of plant will be a somewhat hardy, thick-leaved greenie, such as a succulent or snake plant.
- Mix the strontium aluminate and melamine into a measuring cup at a 3:10 ratio. Tablespoon measurements can be used for ease of measuring. Be sure you’re doing this on top of a disposable tablecloth or paper towel, and wear gloves. The clear gloss melamine is used so the plant still looks natural during the day.
- Spray only the tops of the leaves in a thin coating. This is to prevent suffocating your plant by covering the stomata, which are usually located on the undersides of leaves and allow for gas exchange and respiration. Allow the greenie to sit under the light for a few minutes before testing out the luminescent plant you’ve created! The glow will not last forever, but this is an easy way to create your own glow in the dark plants to see if it’s something you enjoy. Be sure your plant has sufficient access to UV light, from either a lightbulb or the sun, to “recharge” before each night.
There are some companies that are kickstarters for which you can pay a hefty fee to make a more long-lasting glow-in-the-dark plant, though these require specific tools typically only found in microbiology labs, such as pipettes, centrifuges, and incubators. However, the results from using the compounds and steps involved in the process will likely yield a brighter plant with more longevity.
Most Common Type of Plant for Creating Bioluminescent Plants
Currently, the most common type of plant used for creating a bioluminescent glow is Tillandsia species of air plants. However, with genetic modification, more types of plants, like Petunia flowers and Tobacco plants are being added to the list of potential garden plants you can have that will light up your night.
How Long Plant Glowing Can Last?
A homemade glow in the dark plant might only last a few months, but greenies that are purchased through suppliers that are able to make long-lasting coatings can last for the entire life of the plant. These plants purchased through trusted vendors can have a glow for up to 3 hours before needing to be “recharged” with exposure to UV light.
Are There Houseplants That Are Truly Bioluminescent Without Modification?
There are no currently discovered naturally bioluminescence plants without modification, either through genetic splicing or glow-in-the-dark coatings added to the surface of the plant.
Are Bioluminescent Plants Poisonous?
It is not recommended to ingest modified plants to glow in the dark that are sprayed with photoluminescent compounds, though some plants are being engineered with naturally occurring compounds from fungi which may not be poisonous, though you probably still shouldn’t eat it!
Are Bioluminescent Plankton Plants?
Bioluminescent plankton are tiny marine creatures that give off a blue-green glow in the ocean. The plankton tends to occur alongside algae blooms.
Is There Bioluminescent Algae?
Bioluminescent algae consists of bioluminescent dinoflagellates, which are protists, so they are neither plants, animals, or bacteria. These dinoflagellates produce glow-in-the-dark compounds such as luciferin-luciferase, which allows for the blue glow seen in the ocean.