The Purple Heart

“Oh my God Clark – there are these vows: no lovers, that would explain why Lois was hit, no allies, which would explain my purple heart, and no disciples outside of the cult, that’s her. ” — Chloe Sullivan, Smallville Season 9 Episode 10 – “Disciple”

Curious that phrase, “purple heart” to an exploring mind that had heard the phrase rarely. Of course I could glean a passing-in-context definition but a seeking mind will locate answers:

purple heart definition

The first of those definitions is what Allison Mack‘s character Chloe was referring to in context. What interested me the most out of the three was the second definition. I have seen plenty of dark wood, stained wood, and treated wood, but never dark purplish-brown timber. It seems that the genus of trees Peltogyne is particularly responsible for purple heartwood though it does not start out that way. First of all, heartwood is the center of a tree, a section that undergoes a natural, genetically programmed chemical reaction. This reaction results in the heartwood becoming particularly resistant to water and decay.

wood_cross_section_001
the bits that make wood

The cells of the heartwood lack cytoplasm and are functionally dead. Each species has a uniquely pigmented center, though it is not always this starkly different from sapwood (the living wood of the tree that holds sap and also stores and transports water from the roots to the leaves as needed by season). The ratio of sapwood to heartwood varies by species. Some trees can survive with a relatively slim layer of sapwood while others have a more compacted area of heartwood. We use heartwood to produce a great aesthetic effect in floors, dressers, bed frames, desks, window frames, and more. The Peltogyne heartwood is ranked one of the extremely densest woods in the world and can be used to produce a particularly pleasing pigment:

Peltogyne hardwood flooring
amaranth wood

Peltogyne is also known as purpleheart, amendiom, and amaranth. Its heartwood starts out a light brown but turns a rich purple after it is cut. The gorgeous shade above is induced by exposing Peltogyne‘s heartwood to UV light (sunlight) which turns the wood dark brown – but it retains a purple hue. When the desired color is achieved it is preserved by a UV inhibitor. Purpleheart is prized in its use for inlay work, particularly in furniture and musical instruments. It is used primarily in smaller scale projects because it is fairly expensive and difficult to work with.

One day I hope to have some of this inlay on pieces in my own home. This is beautiful work and I’m glad I stumbled upon it. It’s another of my appreciations in this wide world, not to mention another interesting connection to a translation of my name.

Well? Go feed your curious mind!

More “Ratified Research” articles:

  1. The Headless Horseman
  2. Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon
  3. The Luck Dragon
  4. People, Horses, and Halitosis
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