Picture of Grow your own Magic Crystal Tree

If you found an ad for this instructable in the back of a comic book, it would read something like:
"Amaze your friends by growing a crystal tree out of common table salt and a few other ingredients available from the grocery store"
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Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Picture of Gather Your Materials
Gathering the ingredients is probably the most difficult step. To grow your Magic Crystal Tree, you'll need:
- Mrs Stewart's Bluing
- Table salt
- Household Ammonia (the kind with no soap added)
- Cardboard (not corrugated)
- Bowl
- Water
- Measuring spoon
- Food Coloring (optional)

The bluing is the hardest item to find but can be found in the cleaning section of many grocery stores. You can find the ammonia close by.

The cardboard I used came as packing material from a new shirt, or the backing from a paper notepad. Cereal box cardboard might work, but it's thinner & has printing on one side...

Depending on the temperature & humidity of your location, the ammonia is optional, but speeds up the crystal growth -- the tree in this Instructable started "sprouting" in less than an hour. Without ammonia, it may take a couple of days to start.

Step 2: Cardboard Shapes for the Crystals to Grow On

Picture of Cardboard Shapes for the Crystals to Grow On
For this Instructable, I made a tree formed out of two cardboard triangles, roughly 2" at the base and about 3.5" high. If you'd prefer some form of unspeakable tentacled beasty, send me a picture!

Cut a slot from the top to the middle in one piece, and from the bottom to the middle in the other. The slots allow the two pieces to be assembled into a 3D shape.

Make sure that whatever shape you create can stand up by itself.

Step 3: (Optional) Color the tree

Picture of (Optional) Color the tree
If you like, you can add a little color to your shape by putting drops of food coloring on the edges. The food coloring will soak into the cardboard.

Step 4: Adding the "Magic" Solution

Picture of Adding the "Magic" Solution
The "Magic" Solution -- Mix together:
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon bluing
- 1/2 tablespoon household ammonia

I put everything into a small bottle that could be shaken to mix the ingredients.

Again, the ammonia is optional, but I'd recommend it.

Find a place where you can watch your magic tree grow undisturbed for a few days.

Put the tree into the bowl and add the solution

Step 5: Wait...


Wait a little longer...

More waiting...

(First sign of growth showed up at around the one hour mark...)

Step 6: Time Passes

Picture of Time Passes
The tree after 12 hours.

You can keep your crystal shape growing indefinately, by adding more water/salt solution to the bowel.

Step 7: What's Going On?

Picture of What's Going On?
The salt solution is wicked up into the cardboard tree via capillary action. Water evaporates from the surface of the tree, forcing the salt to crystallize out.

Mrs. Stewart's Bluing is a colloid -- tiny particles suspended in water (think of glitter in a snow globe, but much, much smaller). The tiny particles make it easier for the salt crystals to form.

The ammonia helps speed up the evaporation process, which makes the crystals grow faster.

There's a more detail explanation available from Mrs. Stewart's Bluing at http://www.mrsstewart.com/pages/explanation.htm

Step 8: Filming the Crystal Tree Growing

Picture of Filming the Crystal Tree Growing
I set up a Canon PowerShot A40 with remote capture software to take one picture every minute.

The halogen desk lamp overhead is an attempt to provide a consistent light source, as well as warming things up a little (to speed up evaporation).
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same here!!!!!!!
StarFace6 years ago
This is fantastic!

And to think I bought one of these for my younger brother a few years back and paid nearly 10 quid for it when I could of made my own. And your finished product looks a hell of a lot better than the packet one I bought!!

By the way, I live in the UK and I'm just wondering if you have any idea if there is an alternative of some description to Mrs Stewarts Bluing? =S Or even if you know where you could get Mrs Stewarts Bluing over here because right now I can not find ANYWHERE that has any idea at all what it is or where I can get hold of it!

mik3 (author)  StarFace6 years ago
Possibly "laundry bluing" or "washing blue". Technically, Mrs Stewart's Bluing is a colloidal suspension of a blue dye (ferric hexacyanoferrate). The key is the colloidal suspension, which means that it's really an extremely fine powder, which acts as nuclei for the salt crystals to form. Other laundry bluing might work, but check the ingredients for ferric hexacyanoferrate, or possible "Prussian Blue".

You might also check eBay or Amazon for Mrs Stewart's Bluing.

Thanks for the comments,
So would any colloid work?
djamelal6 years ago
i bought one of theese, now i feel like a nugget. such a good idea i have made one but it fell over. = $
k06306 years ago
that's cool! I would like to ask what is the max. height i can have if i want to grow a really large one?
Vehan6 years ago
I think it is cool but what is mr stewarts bluing?
cape cod6 years ago
That is awesome!
youngstuna6 years ago
i think that this invention is really cool
frogmama6 years ago
frogmama6 years ago
Do you have the video posted on Youtube or somewhere? Thanks!
k8monster6 years ago
Hobby or art stores will sell a thin cardboard that us usually used to build working models... It's called chipboard
Or ask a scrapbooker or a place that sells open-stock scrapbook paper. The OS paper comes wrapped with that as a stabilizer for packaging.
mik3 (author)  k8monster6 years ago
Thanks -- it's good know places to find the materials. Other possibilities for the tree "skeleton" are pipe cleaners, or toilet paper tubes.
fwjs286 years ago
time lapse video would be sweet....
canadian nh6 years ago
nice work congratulations, if you have any other arts please show us. I'm in kuwait now, I'm going to my home Canada, I don't know if I can find them there, but I wonder is ammonia which I know white powder? bcz no liquid amonia here, one more question please is this tree fragile? how can we keep it if it is so? and how long it stays? thnks
mik3 (author)  canadian nh6 years ago
Thanks! The ammonia I used is a liquid not a powder. It's used for cleaning. Some people have had luck growing the crystals without using ammonia. The crystals are pretty fragile -- a hard breath or a bump can break off the growths.
I used to do this when I was a kid but we would put charcol in a fish bowl and follow the same directions pouring the mix on the charcol and then dripping food coloring on the charcol. It was really cool but didn't smell very good.
emdarcher6 years ago
where did you get the camera sofware you used in step 8?
mik3 (author)  emdarcher6 years ago
It came with the camera. Google "canon remotecapture" -- unfortunately, it doesn't work with all Canon cameras.
emdarcher mik36 years ago
can you use it with a sony cyber shot or a polaroid small camcorder
mik3 (author)  emdarcher6 years ago
Sorry, I think it's only for Canon cameras. I haven't tried it, but I you might check out gPhoto2 if you've got a linux box.
arthessa6 years ago
Amazing instructable. Congratulations :o) I love the time-lapse video. Really looking forward to making one of my own. But before I can, I have a couple of questions for you: - Is there anything more generic that I can use opposed to Mrs Stewart's Bluing? I don't thing I can get it anywhere here in Colombia. - What remote capture software did you use? Is there any way I can hook my Kodak Z612 up with that software? Does it work with any digital camera, as long as I have the usb cable to connect it to my pc?
mik3 (author)  arthessa6 years ago
Thanks! It was a fun Instructables project to make ;) Possible "laundry bluing" or "washing blue", but check the ingredients for ferric hexacyanoferrate (Prussian Blue). The software used was RemoteCapture 2.7, but it looks like it's only for Canon cameras. If you've got a linux box, I've seen some references to using gPhoto2 for doing timelapse, but I haven't played around with it. Good luck, and let me know if you try anything.
Nice work....I was wondering if ammonia and Mrs Stewart's Bluing is really needed? Since I live in the philippines (davao) and not all chemicals are that easy to find at all....
mik3 (author)  residentevil56 years ago
The ammonia helps the evaporation, and really speeds up the growth. It should work without it, but may take longer to grow the crystals. Try looking for "laundry bluing" or "washing blue" -- if it contains ferric hexacyanoferrate, or possible "Prussian Blue", it might work.
burton35166 years ago
do u have to use ammonia and Mrs Stewart's Bluing?
The ammonia and Mrs Stewart's Bluing are optional, they just speed up the process.
the instructable says the ammonia is optional...
whopoder6 years ago
Good Job! I saw this mix one time... in Beakman's World :D
lobo_pal6 years ago
Nice job, quality instructable. Got any others?
fan457 years ago
hi every one thats cool so hi guys.
Shifrin7 years ago
Hey this is awesome, I Gotta try this!
crapflinger7 years ago
"- Bowel" you probably meant bowl hehe i'll have to do this...my wife got me one of these things that you can buy for like 20 cents at the store...and it was really nifty....however i nocked it over while cleaning this weekend and ruined it
Brennn107 years ago
This is a great science experiment!
Doveman7 years ago
thats cool. I guess it hapenns when the salty water or whaterever (i havent read instructable) moves up the cardboard looking stuff and then runs down the tree branchs.
Oh wow, dang, that's freaking awesome... Looks great, I might do this. (added to favorites)
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