How Do Flowers Absorb Dye?

Written by stephanie smithken
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How Do Flowers Absorb Dye?
Carnations easily absorb dye (the carnation image by Kir from

Many people are familiar with the concept of dyeing flowers with food colouring. But did you ever stop to think about the underlying process that occurs when you dye flowers using just coloured water? The structure of the plant and natural processes like transpiration and cohesion enable many flowers to readily absorb the food colouring and deposit the dye on their petals.

Dyeing Process

When a cut flower is placed in dye, the dye is pulled up the stem and absorbed along with the water. As transpiration causes the water to evaporate from the leaves, the dye is left behind on the petals. The entire dyeing process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the conditions, the flowers and the dyes.


The process of transpiration refers to the evaporation of water from a plant's leaves. The majority of water inside of a plant is eventually lost through transpiration. The loss of water through the leaves creates low pressure in the leaves, which leads the plant to pull more water up through the stem, much like a straw. Once the water begins to travel up the plant's vessel system, cohesion causes the water molecules to stick together and continue to move up the stem.


White daisies and carnations are generally the two flowers most recommended for dyeing, although any long-stemmed flower will work. Daisy petals can be dyed completely; carnations typically display the colour of the dye while still maintaining a little whiteness on the petals. Whichever flower you choose, the dyeing process will be most successful if you select a fresh flower, rather than one that is in full bloom or wilted.


The dye works best with very warm to hot water since heat acts as a catalyst. Similarly, warmer air temperature will also speed up the water absorption and dyeing process. Different colour dyes seem to work at different rates due to the chemical make-up of the dye, while different brands of food colouring also affect the rate of colour absorption. Experiments indicate that blue dye is most effective, followed by red dye and then green dye.


Recut the stem diagonally under water before placing the flower in dyed water. This encourages the flow of water up the flower stem and prevents any air bubbles from forming at the base of the stem. Florists suggest adding a floral preservative to the water to extend the life of your flowers as you dye them. Experts also recommend using 30 to 40 drops of food colouring in order to achieve the desired colour.

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