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Analytical Chemistry

Periodic Graphics: Helping Flowers Last Longer

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning examines how the molecular makeup of flower food helps preserve petals

by Andy Brunning
February 16, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 8


To download a pdf of this article, visit

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest ( To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit

This article has been translated into Spanish by and can be found here.



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MM (February 17, 2016 3:26 PM)
Very cool. Sugar, bleach and citric acid -- all readily available at the supermarket for the DIY floral arranger!
Jim Zelonis (February 17, 2016 8:43 PM)
Thanks for the enlightenment on the little packets that come with the flowers that just don't last long enough. Would a home remedy of vinegar, a couple drops of bleach, and a little bit of cane sugar suffice? Once I open a can of saeur kraut, no one will notice the bleach or vinegar odor.
LA (February 18, 2016 2:09 PM)
I really like these short visuals of chemistry topics from Andy Brunning. I visited his blog after looking at the ones on C&EN, and found some very useful items. Thanks very much for this information and exposure to his work.
billly (February 19, 2016 10:37 AM)
I did that and works great.
Jay (February 19, 2016 11:33 AM)
People used to put a baby aspirin in the mix as well. Salicylic acid doesn't smell like vinegar does.
n brownlee (February 21, 2016 2:18 PM)
There doesn't seem to be much point in sugars- they simply encourage bacterial growth. Just use a tablespoon or two of laundry bleach. Change the water/bleach solution every couple of days- it's as effective as anyone needs it to be.
Lee K (February 24, 2016 8:32 AM)
I have used sugar (or Karo Syrup) and asprin in my fresh cut Christmas tree water for years. Outlasts all of my neighbors fresh cut trees every year. Rarely had an issue with microbial growth, probably because of the acidity of the sap, and wasn't usually an issue until the tree was ready to become firewood...
The rest of my secret - cut the base of the tree fresh when you get it home, while still cold, and ASAP get it into warm water solution.

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