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Color changing flowers

This article appeared in the February 10, 2012 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Lisa Justice

Special to the Enterprise

This Valentine’s Day you can put your science knowledge to work to make uniquely colored flowers as special gifts. 

You will need: a white flower with a long stem (carnations are particularly good for this), two cups of water, a sharp knife, and two colors of food dye. 

Start by adding several drops of food dye into each cup.  Let’s say red in one cup and blue in the other. 

Next use your sharp knife to slit the stem of your flower straight down the middle.  This is a good task for an adult helper.  You want your flower to look like it has two legs, one that can stand in one cup of water and one that can stand in the other. 

Now arrange your flower with one part of the stem in the red cup and one part of the stem in the blue cup, and wait for it to begin sucking up the water.  How long do you think it will take?  Will it make a difference that some of the water is red and some is blue?  What will your flower look like when the colored water reaches all the way to the petals? 

Flowers drink by moving water up their stems to their leaves and petals.  This is called transpiration.  Think of the stem as a straw and the leaves and petals are using it to suck up the water. 

When the water gets to the petals, it evaporates into the air.  But water molecules like to stick to each other, so when the top molecules reach the petals and evaporate, they pull the molecules behind them further up the stem.  This is called cohesion and it provides a steady supply of water for the flower. 

Check on your flower every few hours to see if the water has reached the petals.  This may take up to a day.  When it does, observe what has happened. 

Which color got to the petals first, red or blue?  Did the colors mix or did they stay separate?  What does this tell you about how a plant uses water?   

What would happen if you used a pink flower or a yellow flower instead of a white one?  What would happen if you used different colors of dye?  Can you think of a way to make a purple flower?  Or an orange one? 

Share your floral creations with Explorit.  Take a picture of your flower experiment and post it on our Facebook wall. 


Explorit’s coming events: 

• February 20, 2012, Explorit’s exhibit “Forces of Nature” will be open for President’s Day.  This exhibition, is also open the first full weekend of every month from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at our 3141 5th Street Nature Center and will features the best of Explorit’s past exhibits. 


Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. and is open to the public every first Saturday and Sunday of the month.  For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit, or “like” us on Facebook at

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