In Praise of Chlorophyll

By Shlomo Maital   

    Among the many things we take for granted on our beautiful abused planet is …. Chlorophyll.  I became aware of chlorophyll because of COVID-19. As our synagogue practices cautious social distancing, some of us sit outside, in the corridor.  I get to sit next to leafy plants and a lovely geranium.  And that’s when I reflected on chlorophyll (as the Muppet’s and Kermit’s song goes, it’s not easy being green — ). *

    You and I are here on this planet because of chlorophyll.  ONLY because of it.  Why? Because chlorophyll is vital in photosynthesis. And photosynthesis creates oxygen.  And oxygen is what we breathe, and why living animals are alive.   We’ve known about chlorophyll since 1817 —  for 200 years!

    Here is a short primer. 

    What IS chlorophyll?  It’s simply green pigment.  Why green?  Because Chlorophyll absorbs light in the blue portion of the light spectrum as well as the red portion. But it is a poor absorber of green portions of the spectrum. Hence chlorophyll-containing tissues appear green because green light is less absorbed by plants and is reflected to our eyes. The plant uses the red and blue light. 

    What does chlorophyll do?  Chlorophyll is simply green pigment found in the bacteria and  and in algae and plants] Its name is derived from the Greek — (“pale green”) and   (“leaf”).   Chlorophyll is essential in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from light and use it to create food.   

    But what IS photosynthesis?  Photosynthesis is the process by which plants and some microorganisms make substances like carbohydrates.    It takes in heat in a chemical process that uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars. The sugars are used by the cell as energy, and to build other kinds of molecules. The formula is simple:  6 molecules of water, and 6 molecules of carbon dioxide, combine together, catalyzed by chlorophyll, and using sunlight as energy, plus chlorophyll as a catalyst, you get six molecules of C6H12O6 (sugar) and six molecules of oxygen!

      Why does Kermit think it’s not that easy being green? (see below).

     Well, Kermit the Frog IS green, but not because he does photosynthesis, it’s because he’s a frog, and frogs are green because evolution made them that way as camouflage.  But in a world where people cut down trees and destroy frogs’ habitats, NO, it Is NOT easy to be green.  You’re right, Kermit.

     But maybe if we understood green better,  understood chlorophyll and the miracle that it creates, we would be bigger fans of Green.  Maybe we would vote for Green Parties?

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  •   As a public service, here are the lyrics:

         It’s not that easy being green;

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.

       When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold-

      or something much more colorful like that.   It’s not easy being green.

      It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.

     And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water-

     or stars in the sky.  But green’s the color of Spring.

     And green can be cool and friendly-like.