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Accessory Pigments & Photosynthesis

Nicole Teeter, Sarah Phenix
  • Author
    Nicole Teeter

    Nicole is a dedicated high school teacher with 16 years of experience in the classroom teaching AP Biology, biology, and integrated middle school science. She has an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction and a B.S in Biology from Penn State University. She holds teaching certifications in mathematics, biology and general science.

  • Instructor
    Sarah Phenix
Learn what accessory pigments are in plants. Understand the role of pigments in photosynthesis and examine different types of accessory pigments with examples. Updated: 01/10/2022

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What are Pigments in Plants?

Plants produce their own food, which makes them autotrophs, or any organism that produces its own food. To do this, plants undergo photosynthesis, which produces food in the form of glucose. During photosynthesis, the plant will absorb light from the sun, water in the roots, and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert it into glucose, with oxygen released into the atmosphere as a byproduct. Chloroplasts give plants the energy to perform photosynthesis. Chloroplasts are chemical factories in the plant's leaves that are the site of photosynthesis.


The chloroplast is the site of photosynthesis in the plant. The chloroplast contains the light absorbing pigment, chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives the leaves of plants their green pigment.

Chloroplast Structure


Sunlight radiates from the sun and filters through the atmosphere as visible light. This visible light includes all the colors of the rainbow. When light meets any medium, it can be reflected, transmitted or absorbed. Pigments are chemical compounds that absorb visible light within the plant's chloroplast. Different pigments absorb light at different wavelengths. Pigments hide the colors they absorb. The color one sees is the color reflected. For instance, if an individual is wearing a blue shirt, then all of the colors of the rainbow except blue are absorbed by the shirt. The color blue is reflected back to one's eye, which is why the shirt appears blue. In a plant, light is absorbed by the chloroplast. There are several pigments that are most effective in driving photosynthesis: the primary pigment is chlorophyll a, and several accessory pigments, such as chlorophyll b. Neither chlorophyll a nor b has the ability to absorb green light, which is why the leaves of plants appear green.

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  • 0:01 What Are Pigments?
  • 0:44 Photosynthesis & Chlorophyll
  • 2:40 Accessory Pigment's Role
  • 3:40 Types of Accessory Pigments
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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What Role Do Pigments Play in the Process of Photosynthesis?

Photosynthesis is the process where plants convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy. Pigments are the light absorbing substances within the chloroplasts of leaves. Chlorophyll, the pigment found within the chloroplast of plants, gives plants their green color. These pigments absorb light at different wavelengths. There are two types of chlorophyll pigments in leaves that are involved in photosynthesis: chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b.

  • Chlorophyll a: the main pigment involved in photosynthesis; this pigment is responsible for trapping light in the violet-blue and red light. As a result, in chlorophyll a green is the least effective color, which is why chlorophyll a is yellow-green.
  • Chlorophyll b: an accessory pigment, is almost identical to chlorophyll a, but with a slight structural difference; this structural difference is enough to give the two pigments a slightly different absorption spectra. Chlorophyll b absorbs mostly blue and yellow light and reflects yellow-green pigments.


Light can only perform work in chloroplasts if it is absorbed. The graph shows how chlorophyll a and b absorb light at different wavelengths. This is a driving mechanism of photosynthesis.

Pigment absorption


Accessory Pigments in Photosynthesis

Because a plant needs to absorb light at different wavelengths, accessory pigments play a key role in assisting chlorophyll a with the absorption of light. The accessory pigments are chlorophyll b, carotenoids, xanthophyll, anthocyanin, phycoerythrin, and phycocyanin. These accessory pigments broaden the range of light that can be absorbed by the plant. However, accessory pigments cannot convert light into energy. Instead, they pass their absorbed energy off to chlorophyll a for energy production. This is an important mechanism in driving photosynthesis.

Types of Accessory Pigments

The main accessory pigment is chlorophyll b; however, there are additional accessory pigments, being carotenoids, xanthophyll, anthocyanin, phycoerythrin, and phycocyanin. These accessory pigments assist chlorophyll a because they absorb colors of the visible light spectrum at different wavelengths. Accessory pigments are critical to photosynthesis.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are accessory pigments examples?

Examples of accessory pigments are chlorophyll b and carotenoids. Chlorophyll b absorbs mostly blue and yellow light and reflects yellow-green pigments. Carotenoids absorb light in the blue-green ranges and reflect the yellow, red and orange ranges.

What are pigments and how do plants use them?

Pigments are substances that absorb visible light. Different pigments absorb light at different wavelengths. The color one sees is the color reflected. In a plant, light is absorbed by the chloroplast. There are three pigments that are most effective in driving photosynthesis: the primary pigment is chlorophyll a, and the accessory pigments chlorophyll b and carotenoids.

What is the function of accessory pigments?

Accessory pigments broaden the spectrum of colors that can drive photosynthesis. These light absorbing pigments work with chlorophyll a to drive photosynthesis.

What are the accessory pigments in plants?

The accessory pigments are chlorophyll b and carotenoids. Chlorophyll b absorbs mostly blue and yellow light and reflects yellow-green pigments. Carotenoids absorb light in the blue-green ranges and reflect the yellow, red and orange ranges.

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