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Capillary Action

Now there's a big word! Capillary action is the way water travels up a plant -- and you can see it happen!

What you'll need -

  • Glass of water (or several glasses if you want to try several colors)
  • Food coloring
  • Fresh celery with leaves

How to do it - Use a glass that is tall enough to support several stalks of celery without tipping over. Fill the glass about half-way with water and add about 6 drops of food coloring and stir. A dark color like blue will probably have the best results, but feel free to experiment with several colors.

Next, cleanly cut the bottoms off a few stalks of celery that still have leafy tops (have an adult help with this). You will find that the lighter stalks near the center of the celery will show the best results.

Place the stalks of celery into the glass of colored water. Monitor the celery over the next hours and days and record the results.

What is happening? The capillary action of celery is carrying the colored water all the way through the celery to the leaves. This causes the celery to take on the color of the water!

How can you make this into an experiment? As we know, an experiment should prove or disprove a theory, while a demonstration shows how something works. This might make a better demonstration to show capillary action. Things to consider that might add interest may be:

  • Use several different colors
  • Create a chart that records the progress of the coloration at pre-determined time increments, such as 3 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, etc.
  • Try a different plant. White carnations color very well, but are more expensive than celery
  • With the help of an adult, cleanly slice off the bottom of the celery. You will be able to see the tubes that carry the water up the plant. These tubes are called the xylem of the celery
  • What else can you change and make comparisons?


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