Rainbow Carnations

Making beautiful carnations turn a rainbow of different colors is a great activity on two levels. It’s a great way to explore some scientific processes in plants and nature, and it also creates a gorgeous decoration for your table! All you need is some food coloring, a vase of water, a bunch of white carnations, and time.

School-age, Tween, Teen, Adult, Senior
Number of Players
1, 2, 3 to 4, 5 to 10
Prep Time
10 - 20 minutes
Activity Length
30 - 60 minutes
Easy peasy (fun and simple)
Space Needed
Small (a clearable open space the size of a 1-car garage)
Noise Level
Mess Factor
Get the push brooms
  • White carnations
  • Glass or plastic jars or vases (about 8 to 12 inches tall for long flowers, shorter if you are cutting the flowers short)
  • Good pair of scissors (adult supervision suggested)
  • Water
  • Food coloring (assorted colors: yellow, red, blue, etc.)
  • Digital camera (optional)
  • Notebook & pen (optional)
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Colored masking or duct tape (optional)
  • Knife (optional; see variations)
  • Cutting board (optional; see variations)

1. You will need a good, solid work surface where you can set up your water vases and leave them undisturbed for about several days.
2. Take your first container and fill it ¾ full of water.
3. Add food coloring a few drops at a time until you achieve the desired color; the more highly saturated the color, the faster the flowers will change color.
4. Using a good pair of scissors, snip the bottom of each carnation stem at a 45 degree angle (adult supervision should be used here).

How to Play

1. Place the trimmed carnations, stem down, into the colored water.
2. Leave the carnations rest in the water for about 24 hours. Come back and check on the flowers periodically throughout the week. When the carnations have reached your desired color remove them from the colored water. (The ones in our pictures took a week.)
3. Fill your desired display vase with clear water.
4. Place colored carnations in display vase, and enjoy!


1. You will need adult supervision for this variation. Using your cutting board and a knife, split the carnation stem down the middle of the stem. You will want to split the stem as far up as your vases are tall (i.e., if your vases are 12 inches tall, split the stem 12 inches).
2. Prepare 2 vases of water in different colors.
3. Place one side of the split stem in one vase, place the other split side of the stem in the other vase.
4. Observe in the same manner as above.


1. If you are using this activity as a science experiment, check on the flowers ever few hours. Photograph the progress. Keep records of the changes in color and the level of the water (you can keep track of the water level by marking the level with a piece of tape. Use a ruler to check the height each time). Once you start seeing a trend, start making predictions as to what you think may happen from hour to hour. Set up a couple of different colored waters, does one absorb quicker than another? Does one color the petals deeper than the other? What happens if you use a highly concentrated color vs. a diluted color? Keep all your data so that you can read over your results later.
2. What’s happening? For a serious explanation go to http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/experiment/colorful-carnations. However, the simple version is this: plants maintain their vitality through absorbing water up into their leaves and petals. The stem is basically a straw that transports that life giving water into the flower. The non-harmful coloring of the water is transported up into the petals, and since the petals are white they show the color that is absorbed from the water, much the same way a paper towel or sponge might do.


1. Cut your flower's stem at a 45 degree angle every day to freshen the cut and help it absorb color faster.
2. You can also try liquid watercolors instead of food dye.