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Colorful Carnations: Hands-on with Capillary Function

What color flowers do you want this week? Nature produces a wide array of wonderful colors, but plant biology opens the way for a whimsical "choose your own color" flower experiment, perfect for home or the classroom.


Family Science / Dyeing white carnations and capillary action of plants


April showers, May flowers, and Mother's Day... flowers may be out in abundance at your grocery or corner market, but not all flowers bundled and labeled for sale are straight from the garden.

This science mom's daughter was excited by the colorful flowers she saw at the store, including green carnations. Her mother took the moment of interest to talk about how plants get their nutrients—and how plant science is related to some of the "colors" of flowers for sale.

"I explained that many of the flowers she was seeing were not really like that in nature. So we talked about how flowers get nutrients and water, and then decided we'd try to make our own colored flowers. She actually came up with the idea of putting them in colored water after we talked about how plants drink and transport water!"

This mother/daughter discussion is a great reminder that a little science discussion can go a long way! Stopping to talk about what's going on and how science explains what has captured a kid's imagination helps kids make important connections between science and the real world and also encourages them to think about how that information can be used or tested. Sometimes your student might surprise you by assimilating the information and coming back with questions or suggestions, as this student did. She made the leap to wondering what would happen if they put flowers in colored water, and her mother took the next step—hands-on science at home.

"Of course, one color was not enough in our household. We needed to make a rainbow of colors... Seven seemed like a bit much to me so we compromised and did three."


Flower Science at Your House

Don't bypass those white carnations! They offer a wonderful opportunity for hands-on science with your kids. Will other white flowers work the same way? Give it a try and find out! The "Suck It Up: Capillary Action of Water in Plants" Project Idea will help guide your home experiment. For another version of this family project, see the Science Buddies "Staining Science: Capillary Action of Dyed Water in Plants" experiment at Scientific American.

What a great science activity to do this week with the kids in celebration of Mother's Day and Spring! The activity doesn't take much time or preparation, but the results may brighten up your kitchen table.



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