Flower Power

Here, imagine yourself in this scenario:

HIP HIP HOORAY! It’s Valentine’s Day!!
Your partner decides to be romantic and buy you a huge bouquet of your favourite flowers. (Guys, please pretend!)


You are super impressed and quickly place the flowers in a vase of water.
Now, the big question is – what should you add to the water to make the flowers last longer?

You take a good look around the house and finally found a couple of choices: 

a)    Bleach
b)    Sugar
c)    That sachet of “cut flower food” that florists provide
d)    Vinegar
e)    Aspirin

Hmmm. Have you made your choice?

Well, if you’ve picked any one of the options provided, your flowers will most likely survive longer than it normally would!

Are you surprised? During the recent National Science Week (NSW), students from Newton Moore Senior High School in Bunbury did a little experiment on this. They were involved in the NSW Science Fair where each participant had produced a scientific report and one of them (unfortunately not the winner) stated that the flowers would last longest if bleach was added to the water.

So the winners (in terms of longest-lasting flowers) are…

1st – Bleach

2nd – Vinegar

3rd – That sachet of ‘cut flower food’ (polysaccharide gel, such as gellan gum)

4th – Aspirin

5th – Sugar

So, why all these ingredients? The main rationale behind these ingredients is that: 

  1. They prevent bacteria and fungal growth
  2. Having a little ‘sugar’ in the water will provide a source of ‘food’.

Thus, many experienced people and websites will recommend adding a combination of a few of the ingredients. (Have a look here.) Of course, there has been debate that different flowers/plants require different ingredients.

I first heard this interesting piece of information during my interview with Professor Lyn Beazley, the Chief Scientist of Western Australia. I was surprised that I wasn’t familiar with simple science like this, and realized that it all boiled down to how well science has been communicated to the public.

People may know the “solutions” to daily life problems, but do they actually know and understand the simple science behind it? What else do you think can be done to promote science?


By Jessica Ho

7 comments on “Flower Power

  1. First of all, great photo! I swear I walked past a guy carrying that exact bunch a while ago…

    I love flowers and I always try to have them around my house because I think it makes the place look really homely. It is annoying when they don’t last long though! I can’t believe I never knew bleach (of all things!!) would help them live longer!

    I think this is the sort of experiment that teachers can quite easily do with their students in school. They can then discuss what the reasons are for the results. It teaches children to be inquisitive and not settle for facts but what the ‘reason’ behind it is. When I was in primary school I brought a catepillar into class and we fed it until it grew into a butterfly. It took very little time out of the curriculum but I’ll bet everyone in that class still knows how to spell metamorphosis!

    • Thanks Diana! I’m pretty sure he’s the same guy we’re talking about (:

      We learn something new everyday! But I must stress that perhaps results vary and how well the flowers are thought to live in that extended life is subjective. I agree that these sorts of experiments are easy to carry out in school but it’s not something particularly relevant or safe to children (i.e. choice of target audience). Perhaps it would be better to introduce facts like that in a flower arrangement class? But I fully agree that it’s so much more exciting and intriguing when you can relate it to everyday life!

  2. I have to say the photo dragged me in this post. Nice one! And the topic and the example are also very interesting.

    Who would know that bleach would help flowers last longer!
    I think this is why science is full of fun. Unknown leads to surprise. Some articles like “10 Weird Science Facts You Didn’t know” are always popular and intriguing on internet.
    I agree with Diana that this kind of experiment can be included in school. But I think it could be used to adults as well, and media could use these well. For media, people love these weird, surprising findings, so they can catch more readers (like you doing a great example); and for science, people are interested in these life-related topic, and are more willing to dig the science behind it.

    • Thanks Axl! That goes to show how useful or powerful a picture can be!

      I agree that people love to find weird and surprising findings – people like to learn new things that they don’t already know! With advanced technology and media in this age, it is getting increasingly hard to impress and attract audiences. I also agree that people perhaps are more interested in topics they can relate to in their own lives – let’s put it this way: A person is definitely more likely to pay extra attention if it involves or affects him/her!

  3. Reading your post was good fun! i recall a friend who was studying horticulture who did her thesis on how to increase the shelf life of cut carnation flowers and i think her experiment yielded that it was to place the flowers in sprite with a copper coin! Well, i guess it is all about science like biochemistry, but it crossed my mind that with so much time and effort put into her experiment, nobody else would get to know about this finding! It may be because it is expensive and not feasible to do, but it is good for us to know that there are wonderful things science is helping us discover about our daily lives.
    I think universities and research institutions should keep updated websites, publish and distribute scholarly magazines and hold seminars to present basic findings of research that may be useful to different levels of society (individuals, families, institutions, community etc) and for media to pick up on these and share the facts with the world. Also, learning science in school should take on a more progressive approach in order to be able to incorporate new knowledge besides the core theories and experiments, Of course there are plenty of other ways to communicate science to different target groups, so i guess it should be strategically planned to reach them.

  4. Cute photo 🙂

    I completely agree with doing science experiments in primary school, these are the kinds of experiments that don’t take long and are fun… because they are fun kids will become more interested and hopefully pursue science in the future!

    These kinds of opportunities are what create inquisitive minds and are so important for the growth and maintenance of science.

    From my time in primary school I only remember doing one fun science experiment using tennis balls (something physic-sy). Looking now at all the possibilities teachers had, I wonder why we never did more?

  5. The post was great.
    While science is in our everyday activities, something’s go by unacknowledged and unconsciously. I agree with you on the note that the public do not clearly understand the science behind what happens and experienced on a daily basis.
    However, for some, science can be as simple as seeing a child cry to more complex as why the sunset times is always different.
    But yes, definitely science to the public needs to be communicated effectively and understood clearly.

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