Glowing Pandora Flowers




Are you obsessed with living luminescence and all manner of glowy things? Me too! This is the easiest way to bring the beauty and magic of bioluminescence to your life without finicky organisms that you have to persuade (with force or whispers of sweet nothings) to glow for you. You also get to see the otherwise invisible process of where water goes when plants drink it!

I like cheap, easy and beautiful, don't you? This project will cost you around $10 if you buy all the supplies instead of scavenging/foraging for them. It takes about 5 minutes to set up, with 2-8 hours of waiting, and then YOWZAS for days and days!

Step 1: Get the Things

This is what you need:

- a blacklight

- a lamp to stick the blacklight in

- flowers

- a container to stick the flowers in for treatment

- a highlighter

- scissors

- water

- vase

'Blacklight' just means that it produces light in the UV part of the spectrum in our case. Since human beans can't see UV light, blacklights are often colored purple so you know something is happening when they are turned on. Fluorescent tubes work the best for this project, followed by the CFL bulbs (all the photos in this instructable were taken using CFL bulbs) that you can buy at most hardware stores, followed by the non-fluorescent bulbs, which I haven't tried and that probably don't work super well...don't use those.

To start with, any old lamp (that fits your tube or bulb) will do, but you will quickly discover that you want to optimize the location of the light to the perfect height and position for the most glow. A flexible light will make your heart do cartwheels, and after that, hopefully you'll want to make your own light fixture to be just perfect for your glowing flowers.

My favorite flowers to do this with are white or light-colored gladiolus. They drink quickly and have a beautiful network of xylem (flower drinking tubes) that become illuminated. Almost every flower will glow somewhere, and they all glow in different ways so experiment with flowers you find! Light colored petals work best because there aren't other pigments blocking you from seeing the light. Other good options are asian lilies, carnations, roses, daisies, etc.

When you give the flowers the juice, it will be concentrated so you want your container to be pretty small but big enough to hold the flowers. Most kitchens will already have a wide range of cups to choose from so pick one that just fits the stems of your bouquet in it. You will probably want to save and reuse your juice, so you may want to just start with a jar that has a lid.

The highlighter is where the fluorescent pigment will be coming from. Some highlighters are fakers and don't actually have fluorescent pigment in them so watch out! Brands that I know are legit include hi-liter and sharpie. If they say 'fluorescent highlighter' on the box they will probably work. You'll get used to seeing the difference between bright yellow and fluorescent if you do this for awhile, and you'll know right away if one will work or not by drawing a line on paper.

Any scissors will do.

The height of the vase should be such that the flowers sit an inch or so under the lamp bulb. You'll have to experiment to get it perfect, but generally the closer the flowers are to the bulb the better.

Step 2: Make the Sauce

Once you have acquired all of your supplies and flowers...

Prepare the container!

To be safe, start with a small volume of water like 1 cup to keep the concentration high. So put 1 cup or so of water in the container that will hold your flowers.

Get the fluorescent pigment out of the highlighter!

This might be hard the first time you do it. You have to break open the plastic on the highlighter and get the tube of fluorescent goodness out. The easy way to do this is to find the parts of the plastic that are designed to come apart. Usually, on the fatter highlighters the opening is at the non-writing end, and on the skinny highlighters it is right at the base of the cap. I take my scissors, and squeeze them onto the end-cap and just kind of pop one piece of the plastic away from the other. If this technique fails for you, just smash it with a hammer or whatever. Once you have the sweet sweet tube of fluorescence, squeeze it from top to bottom to get all the juice into your container of water. Keep doing that until fluorescent pigment is all over your hands and personal belongings. It washes off, but if you care about it actually washing off, I'd wear gloves because the blacklight will show you that the yellow stain is different to the fluorescent stain.

Step 3: Drink Flower, Drink!

Cut the stem ends off your flowers at a 45 degree angle under running water (so they can drink a lot!) and then stick your flowers in their fluorescent drink. Use the blacklight to check on them often for glowiness. The less time they spend in their drink, the longer they'll live after you take them out. If you leave them overnight, it'll for sure work but they might not live as long as normal cut flowers. I would try it that way first so you know what to expect, glowiness wise. Gladiolus are often fully glowy after only a couple hours.

Once they're glowy, take them out of the drink and rinse the ends off in fresh running water. Put them in your vase in fresh water (you can add cut flower food if you want, apparently this is either or both of sugar and aspirin) and put the vase under your blacklight lamp.

Your world should now look like Avatar!

Experiment with highlighter concentrations, blacklight types, flower species, vases and lamps to get them perfect!



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    24 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Nice picture D:


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Stunning. So beautiful I can't wait to try it. Very well done. We must have beauty to live.


    4 years ago

    I've been trying to do this, but with glow sticks. Didn't turn out well.


    4 years ago on Step 3

    This is amazing, I must admit, I have never seen this done before.

    So many thanks for showing how to create Avatar style flowers.

    hatwood mayfield

    4 years ago

    So very cool! We are going to do this for my daughter's science fair project!

    Wow they are gorgeous, you should totally do an instructable on how you took such pretty photos. Every time I try to do glowing picture they turn out terrible. Also this technique is awesome and clearly worked amazingly! Thanks for sharing!

    1 reply

    glowy things are notoriously hard to photograph, but there is actually a lot of light coming off these. these photos were taken unskillfully with my iphone! zoom in so the illuminated areas dont get blown out, and thats all there is to it!


    4 years ago

    Thats pretty cool. Congrats :) Do you think it would work with plants planted in a vase? Wattering it every day with this juice?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    ive wanted to try this for awhile. im pretty sure it would work up until that moment it killed the plants. maybe i will try it with cfreitag sr.'s method because i think that would kill them slower!

    cfreitag sr.

    4 years ago

    Use denatured alcohol to extract the flurocine from the highlighter, then let evaporate, it will form a dark brown viscous liquid, then add this to 1 aspirin tablet and 1tsp sugar in 2-3 c. mineral water/rain water.

    1 reply