Lead Tree




This is an instructable on growing the lead tree, arbor Saturnus.

It is a crystalline formation of metallic lead, in this case forming the leaves of a wire tree. Micheal Faraday made a passing reference to one in The Forces of Matter while giving demonstrations on the relationship of chemistry and electricity. A short description on the preparation of a lead tree was included in a footnote, although he didn't give any indication of what it looked like. I couldn't find anything on the internet either so the only way to find out was to try it.

Step 1: Materials


  • Lead Acetate
    • lead (fishing sinkers)
    • distilled vinegar
    • hydrogen peroxide
  • Zinc (from battery)
  • Brass wire or tree
  • Clear nail polish (optional)
  • Clear jar or container to fit tree


  • Rubber gloves
  • Pliers

I followed this instructable to make the tree. If you don't want to take the time to make on you can just twist a bundle of brass wires at one end and bend them out in a kind of cone.

Here is an instructable for getting zinc from the battery.

Step 2: Lead Acetate

I was surprised not to find an instructable for this.

Wear rubber gloves for this step. Take great care not to come into contact with the lead or lead acetate.

Fill a container about half full with household vinegar, and the rest with hydrogen peroxide. Place some lead inside and cover the container. Bubbles should start forming around the lead. I used muzzle loader balls for this but fishing sinkers should work fine. In my first attempt I used lead recovered from a car battery, but battery lead isn't pure and I could only get very small crystals to form using it.

I used about 1.25 ounces of lead in a quart of fluid. It will take some time for the lead to dissolve. Hammering the lead flat will increase the surface area and speed the process up, so will heating the mixture. I left mine on a candle warmer for a couple days.

When most of the lead is dissolved and the bubbling has stopped pour the lead acetate off of the remainder. There may be a fine white powder left in the bottom. My best guess is that this is lead chloride from something in the vinegar.

Step 3: Brass Tree

Flatten the zinc and mount the tree on it. Be careful to keep the zinc and the tree clean. Bend the "roots" over to make a good connection to the zinc and keep the tree stable.

When the tree is mounted you may want to coat the trunk and the base of the roots with nail polish to prevent leaves from growing there. After it is dry carefully place the tree in the container.

Step 4: Add the Lead Acetate

Pour the lead acetate over the tree. Fill the container completely and cover with a tight fitting lid. Again wear gloves and be careful not to spill any of the lead acetate.

Step 5: Growing

Since the zinc has a higher electronegativity than lead,
it will substitute in the lead acetate giving zinc acetate and metallic lead which will crystallize on the zinc. The brass and zinc together form a kind of battery which attracts some of the lead to crystallize on the brass. Copper will work also, but it takes much longer.

Lead will begin to deposit on the zinc immediately, and leaves should start growing in about an hour. The tree will continue to grow until either the lead or the zinc is exhausted.

Thank you for reading!

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    14 Discussions


    2 years ago

    How do you make the Lead Acetate specifically? How much should i mix the vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and the lead? Also, whats the nail polish for?


    Reply 3 years ago

    I used 3%, but if you can find a stronger concentration it won't take as long.


    3 years ago

    How long can I keep the tree before it starts to decay?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    It does eventually brake down, but the one in the picture still hasn't decayed, and I have another two years old. As long as the fluid doesn't evaporate and it isn't exposed to large temperature fluctuations, it should be fine.

    There is a relate reaction called Diana's Tree, based on silver. I don't have any silver nitrate, so I can't try it. The chemistry is different but the principle is the same. Here's an encyclopedia entry from wikipedia.

    ARBOR DIA'NÆ (Lat., tree of Diana, the alchemic name of silver).
    An arborescent precipitate of metallic silver from a solution of silver
    nitrate, produced by the addition of a metallic element such as mercury.
    The proportions recommended are as follows: Dissolve twenty grains
    silver nitrate in one fluid ounce of water in a convenient bottle, add
    one-half dram of pure mercury, suspend a piece of zinc by means of a
    fine thread secured to the cork, and in a day or two the arborescent
    appearance will present itself.

    The lead acetate isn't dangerous if handled carefully (like with gloves), but I'm trying out tin acetate now as a substitute. I'll let you know how it turns out.


    5 years ago

    is the crystal structure strong enough to last without the suspension fluid?

    1 reply

    The larger crystals (like the ones on the branches of the the first picture) are strong enough to take out of the liquid, but are delicate and will oxidize in the open air. You may be able to coat the whole thing with a clear spray laquer to protect it, but I haven't tried this.