How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?

Written by jenny molberg
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How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
A white carnation, perfect for experimenting with food colouring (white carnation image by Martin Heaney from Fotolia.com)

Putting food colouring in the water you feed plants is a cool way to see capillary action, or a plant's process of drinking water. This process is necessary for a flower to make food. Try a darker colour of food colouring, like blue or red, to maximise the affect of the plant's capillary action.

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Roots

White carnations are a good flower on which to perform this experiment, as you can see the colour change easily on their light-coloured petals. Capillary action first begins in the roots. The roots absorb water and nutrients from soil and support the stems of the plant. Food colouring used in this experiment will not harm the plant, but sometimes a plant's roots can absorb harmful chemicals.

How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
A plant's root system (root system image by joanna wnuk from Fotolia.com)

Stems

Usually, the food colouring experiment is done on cut flowers, where the root system is no longer present. Cut flowers can live for a short period of time as the capillaries in their stems perform transpiration, or pulling water up the plant toward the leaves and flowers. If you split open a carnation after you have fed it water dyed with food colouring, you can see the capillaries inside the stem.

How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
The stem of a carnation. (purple and cream carnation image by Martin Heaney from Fotolia.com)

Xylem

The xylem refers to the system transport tubes and is responsible for the movement of water and nutrients throughout the plant. When you dye the water that you give a flower, the xylem will begin transpirational pull without the roots present, and slowly, coloured water will travel through the plant, eventually reaching the flower.

How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
The xylem carries water, or H2O, through the plant. (H2o image by Renato Francia from Fotolia.com)

Flowers

As the plant begins drinking the water, you will begin to see the spread of the food colouring in the flowers in a few hours. As capillary action begins in the roots, or with cut flowers, in the stem, it will wind up in the flower and eventually will evaporate as water vapour. With this experiment, you can try different coloured flowers to see if colours will mix, or you can mix food dyes and see what happens in a white bloom.

How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
Red Carnations (carnation 3 image by sally from Fotolia.com)

Results

After your flowers have absorbed colour in their petals, take one and split open the stem so you can see the evidence of capillary action throughout the entire plant. This is a great way to learn about transpiration. The plant will use this water with sunlight and nutrients, in the leaves and stem, to make food. This experiment can also be used to dye flowers without harming them.

How Do Flowers Absorb Colored Water?
Carnations dyed green (isolation of a st. patrick"s day hat with green carnations image by David Smith from Fotolia.com)

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