It may seem like magic, but by leveraging the very building blocks of plant biology, you can easily make your very own beautiful rainbow colored tie dye flowers. This is such a fun project to do with the family or with kids and it's a surprising amount of fun to check in every hour to see all the color changes that happen.
- However many fresh white flowers you would like (we recommend roses and lilies from your local grocery store)
- A set of food-safe food coloring
- Several glass cups, jars, containers, etc. (glass so you can see your colors, but not required)
- Cutting board and thin cutting knife
- A pitcher of water
Step 1: Prepare Materials
- Dry the stems of the flowers you have selected for dyeing[Optional] Leave the flowers out of water for 30-60 minutes before the experiment so that they are particularly thirsty. This step will slightly reduce the time they need to sit in the water.
- Cut the stems of your flowers to the desired height, and keeping in mind that they will need to be able to comfortably sit in the water containers you have selected. If you have shorter containers, you may need to cut your flower stems shorter.
- Separate out your flowers between single color, two color, three color, and four color. Then for each set of flowers past single color carefully split the stems into corresponding halves, thirds, or fourths. Use as thin a knife as possible, and do your best to evenly split the stem without scraping the xylem inside.
Step 2: Prepare Food Coloring and Setup
- Fill your glass containers with the different colors. Be generous with how much food coloring you put into the water so that you get deeper colors to show on the petals; in fact don't be shy about dumping all your food coloring into each container. You can mix colors (i.e. red+yellow=orange) which should work well. If you split a stem and put half in red and half in yellow you will also see some orange emerging amidst the clearly yellow and red, but not as much as if you had mixed the orange ahead of time.
- Now place the stems of all your colors into the different colored containers as you'd like to see them colored. We prefer a nice mix of everything.
Step 3: Sit and Wait!
- Now you wait. Some color should start emerging after the first hour, and after 24 hours you probably will have considerable color effects. We stopped after 24 hours as we loved the tie-dye effect it produced, but you can leave the flowers in longer and see what happens.
- Place your tie-dyed flowers in a vase of fresh water (no food coloring), add some flower food mix if the store gave you any, and enjoy them as long as they last. Our tie dye flowers survived just as long as some plain white flowers that we used as a control group, and we do not believe that the dye has any effect on their lifespan.
Step 4: The Science of It All
Normally flowers will pull water from their roots all the way up to their leaves and petals where they use it to make food through photosynthesis. Flowers with their roots cut will still be able to absorb water through xylem which is a system of tine hollow tubes that behave similarly to a bundle of straws sucking the water upwards. So the water with the food coloring is able to travel up to the petals via the xylem. Once the water arrives in the petals, it proceeds to evaporate out of microscopic holes in the plant in a process called transpiration. The food dye is not able to evaporate along with the water, so instead it is left behind in the petals which results in the beautiful coloring. This is a fun experiment to learn about plant structures, but more critical to understand is that by using this same process harmful chemicals and pollutants can contaminate the vegetables we eat or the plants we live with.
In florist terms the method is called the absorption method, and the dye results can be controlled by monitoring the time the flower spends in the water; generally the longer time the flower spends in the colored water, the deeper the shade will turn.
Step 5: What to Do If Your Flowers Don't Change Color?
- Some flowers as you can see in the video just aren't as conducive to picking up the colors as others. This can often be due to the flowers having herbaceous vs. woody stem types. We learned that roses and lilies are almost always a safe bet. Lilies were definitely our favorite.
- Give them some more time, we gave our flowers nearly 24 hours to get the coloring in the photos. Oftentimes if you accidentally chose woody stem types it can take them multiple days to show color.
- Did you use enough food coloring? Try dumping in the whole bottle. More is always better (depending on what color you're looking for).If all else fails, take to the following infamous back-up plan pictured above.
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