Scientific American 33(20): 311 (November 13, 1875)


A simple and well known chemical experiment, showing the action of sulphurous acid on vegetable coloring matter, consists in placing in that gas violets, which become almost instantly bleached. Sulphurous acid, by its deoxidizing properties, destroys the color of a large number of other flowers, such as roses, periwinkles, etc., and its effects may easily be noted by the little apparatus shown in Fig. 1. This consists of a capsule in which sulphur is ignited to generate the acid, covered by a conical metal chimney, at the orifice of which the flowers to be bleached are placed.

Fig. 1.—Discoloration ot flower petals by sulphurous acid.

Quite recently M. Filhol has exhibited, before the members of the French Scientific Association, new results, obtained through the action of a mixture of sulphuric ether and a few drops of ammonia upon flowers, from which it seems that a large number of the latter, normally of a violet or pink color, become, when immersed in the mixture, an intense green, The editor of La Nature, from which journal we extract the engravings herewith given, has continued the investigations of M. Filhol, and deduces an interesting series of experiments, the description of which we present below.

Fig. 2.—Turning blossoms green by ammoniacal ether.

Into a wine glass, Fig. 2, pour a quantity of ordinary ether, and add about one tenth its volume of liquid ammonia. Into this the flowers are to be plunged. The purple and pink tinted flowers, which become bright green, appearing as if dyed by a copper salt, are the red geranium, the violet periwinkle, lilacs, roses (red and pink), gillyflowers, thyme blossoms, blue bells, heliotropes, and myosotis. Other flowers of different shaded colors acquire different tints. The upper petal of the violet sweet pea becomes a dark blue, while the lower petal turns to a light green. Sweet William changes to brown and light green. White flowers usually become yellow, this being the case with the white poppy, the snapdragon, which turns yellow and dark violet, the white rose, which changes to a straw tint, the white columbine, the chamomile, the syringa, the white daisy, and the white rocket, the honeysuckle, the bean, the white potato blossoms, the meadowsweet, and the white foxglove. In the pink sweet pea, the upper petal becomes blue, and the lower one a soft green. The pink geranium turns blue in a remarkable manner. The red snapdragon becomes of a fine metallic brown, the valerian of a grayish color, and the red wild poppy of a fine violet. Yellow flowers in the ammoniacal ether remain unaltered. Red turns green in a very curious way when put in the mixture. The action of the chemical is so rapid that the merest sprinkling of it on the leaf is sufficient to cover the latter instantly with green spots. In the same way flowers may be spotted with white, even while they are growing.

The most interesting changes of color are those which take place in flowers which are variegated. Thus particolored fuchsias become yellow, green, and blue. All flowers which have taken a new hue may be kept from changing back again for several hours by plunging them in pure water. Eventually, however, they regain their natural colors.

Another curious fact to be noted in the present connection is that the flowers of asters, which are naturally inodorous, acquire an agreeable perfume under the influence of the ammonia. The same flowers, when violet, become red when wet with nitric acid diluted with water.