Types of Esters in Flowers

Written by sally raspin
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Types of Esters in Flowers
All flowers contain esters. (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Once known as ethereal salts, flower esters, like all plant and fruit esters, are organic compounds that occur when an acid molecule combines with alcohol or phenol in a process known as esterfication. Common flower esters are colourless and insoluble in water and are the sources of fragrances in flowers and the fragrance and flavour in fruits. Different flower esters have been studied for a range of uses and are frequently synthesised for medical uses.

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Lutein Esters in Marigolds

Lutein, a dietary oxycarotinoid, is an ester produced by marigolds, which has been shown to benefit the retina and protect against the onset of age-related macula degeneration, according to "The International Journal of Biological and Life Sciences." Marigold flower petals are a rich source of lutein ester, but the lutein must be de-esterified to be absorbed and utilised by the human body. Lutein has now been synthesised as a supplement. (Reference 2)

Types of Esters in Flowers
Marigolds are a source of the ester luteine. (marigold image by Furan from Fotolia.com)

Esters in Roses

Esters alone are not responsible for the fragrances of all flowers, but they do play a big part. In the hybrid rose, esters, terpenes and phenolic derivatives all play a role in producing the fragrance. There are more than 400 compounds that contribute to the fragrances we identify with roses. These can be grouped under six headings, of which esters is one. Geranyl acetate and 2-phenylethyl acetate are two esters that make major contributions to the fragrance of roses and other flowers. (Reference 3)

Types of Esters in Flowers
Rose esters are a source of fragrances. (Rose Rose image by Jan Wowra, Frankfurt from Fotolia.com)

Insecticidal Esters

For many years, scientists believed that nicotine was the active insect repellent in tobacco leaves, but it is now known that the active ingredients were sugar esters. The leaves of petunias were analysed and found to contain glucose and sugar esters, which had insecticidal qualities and were shown to be effective against sweet potato white fly. These polyol sugar esters do not penetrate the host plant and have been synthesised and patented as effective insecticides with little risk to the environment, as the insecticide dries rapidly and breaks down readily into fatty acids, says "The Journal of Agricultural and food Chemistry."

Petunia leaves offer an ester that has been synthesised into an insecticide.
Petunia leaves offer an ester that has been synthesised into an insecticide. (petunia flowers image by Nikon'as from Fotolia.com)

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