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COLOR A CARNATION

Have you ever seen a florist's bouquet that has turquoise, blue, or purple carnations? You really know, somehow, that they didn't grow and blossom in those colors, don't you! How do you think they get to be those colors? How about the green daisies in florists bouquets? Did they blossom in green?

Flowers are not like fruit. When fruit first appears on the tree, it is usually small and green. Mom tells you not to pick the green fruit, and certainly not to eat it. It doesn't taste very good anyway. (Some fruit is green when it is at its best, like watermelon and baking apples. We're talking here about baby fruit.) After the fruit is on the tree for awhile, it grows larger, then it turns to the color it is when it is best; peaches turn to peachy pink, apricots turn to their ripe pink-orange color, some apples turn golden, and some apples turn bright red.

Well, flowers do not do that. When they first blossom, they are little and their petals are all curled up tightly. When they bloom, and the petals unfold, the blossoms are their regular colors. Of course, flowers come in many, many colors, but there are some flowers that are never found in colors other than their usual colors. There are soft pink daisies, yellow daisies, yellow-brown daisies, blue daisies, and white daisies. Not turquoise or purple or green. Carnations are usually white, pink, red, and shades in between pink and red. Not blue or purple.

So we will see how the florists can manage to have a bouquet of flowers that might be a person's favorite colors, even if there are no flowers in those colors. We will start with a white carnation and a white daisy. All we need are the blossoms; not leaves or roots. Just the cut flowers.

While holding the carnation stem under the water in a small, half-filled vase or cup, we will cut off the end of the stem. Why do we hold the stem under water while we cut it? So air doesn't get inside the stem. If air got inside, it would form a bubble, and block the tubes up which the water goes. Do the same for the daisy, in its own separate container.

Here's the fun part. What colors shall these flowers be? Their natural colors are lovely, and they are the colors we expect the flowers to be. Yet, if we don't do something to them, there is no experiment. Maybe the daisy could be blue and the carnation could be turquoise. There are many different colors of food coloring, and what we need is blue and green. For the blue daisy, we will add 1 teaspoon of blue food coloring to the water in its container. For the turquoise carnation, we need to add 1/2 teaspoon blue and 1/2 teaspoon green to its water.

Both flowers like sunlight, so we will put them in the window on the sunny side of the room. Every half-hour, they need to be checked to see if they are changing color. How could they change color, anyway?

Easy. The stems have little tubes called "conducting tubes," through which water is taken in both while the plant is growing and while the cut flower is in a vase of water. (I have always called those tubes "veins," because they seem similar to the veins we have in our bodies. However, calling them veins may be a mistake. Botanists, people who study plants, apparently call them "conduction tubes," so that is what we should call them.)

The colored water goes into the stem's conducting tubes, and is taken to the petals, where we can see the difference. Sometimes the florists will take the blossoms out of the colored water just when the edges of the petals have changed, leaving the rest of the petal white. If we leave our flowers in the coloring for the whole day, they will probably be colored all the way through.

Since we mixed blue and green to make turquoise, does that mean a blue flower placed in green coloring would be turquoise? And would a yellow flower turn green if it were placed in blue coloring? We should try these experiments with different colors of flowers and see what happens. Do all stems have the kind of conducting tubes that would allow us to color their flowers? Another experiment, with different kinds of flowers would be interesting.

We could even try it with celery! How about some red celery? Since some people are allergic to food colorings, we will not eat the celery, or any other food, that we color.

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