The Return of the Rainbow Rose

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One of our most popular posts is Roses are red – but they don’t need to be, if you know how to use food dyes and Fibonacci. In it, Anne Osterrieder explains how to make your own rainbow rose. Not everyone is convinced the method works.

I gave it a go and in my house today there’s this.

A rainbow rose
The petals draw their colours from whatever dye was traveling up their part of the stem.

Sadly there’s no connection between me trying to make a rainbow rose and having one in my house. The local shop was selling them for Valentine’s Day. When I tried making one I got nothing.

I thought that could be because I’d mucked up cutting the stem. So what I then did was try to make a green rose. That way I could at least see that the food dye was working to dye the petals. After a day there was a slight green tinge at the edge of the petals, but there was no way it was going to be mistaken for a green rose.

Stained rose stem
If you look at where the stem is peeling away you can see the different colours of the xylem.

So is it all nonsense? Chronica Horticulturae, a Publication of the International Society for Horticultural Science mentions the invention of rainbow roses on page 16, and dyes are the method they describe. The science Anne describes is sound. Also looking at the stem, it’s clear that there’s something going on in the xylem. The cross cross-section is evidence of there being dyes going up the stem.

However, the stem itself is a lot less woody than the usual roses that I’ve bought, and this is likely to make a difference. Also, the how-to videos suggest using food dyes. I can see why, but I wonder if you’re going to have more success with a specialist floral adsorption dye. It’s worth noting that the article in Chronica Horticulturae says that everyone already knows about staining flowers. The way Peter van de Werken has innovated is thinking to stain in multiple colours, and getting those stains fairly uniform on a regularly repeatable basis.

As an experiment to see water traveling up the stem into the petals, I think it’s an interesting demonstration, but I don’t see Peter van de Werken’s business being in trouble from hobbyists any time soon. However, if you do want to make your own multicolour roses there’s another way.


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