Monday, December 15, 2014

Turning Winter to Spring

Here at City Science Kids, we've been performing a little science experiment. We wanted to see if we could make it spring in our Brooklyn apartment—in the month of December! It turns out, we can. By "forcing" bulbs.
Back in November, we bought 4 paperwhite bulbs and 1 hyacinth bulb at our local nursery. Paperwhites are related to daffodils and they look a lot like them, only they're smaller and all-white. Hyacinths are amazingly fragrant purple-blue flowers. Both kinds of flowers bloom in early spring. Instead of growing from seeds, like lots of plants and flowers do, these grow from bulbs.

The International Bulb Society calls a bulb "an underground storehouse and flower factory" that contains everything a plant needs to sprout then flower when the time is right. In the case of paperwhites and hyacinths, that's when the frost first begins to melt. In the middle of the bulb are leaves surrounding the bud itself. And scales that provide all the nutrients the bud will need to grow. Also the roots, which will start to emerge before the bud does. All held together by an outer layer called a "tunic."
Normally to get a flower from a bulb, you stick the bulb in the ground in the fall. It spends the winter underground in cold temperatures. When the ground start to warm, the bulb knows it's time to grow! To get bulbs to grow off-season, you just need to trick them into thinking it's spring. Our nursery kept the bulbs in a refrigerator for a few weeks. Then we brought them home and "planted" them. Really what we did was layer some stones in the bottom of glass pitchers, then we stuck the bulbs on top of them, sprout-side up. Then we added a little water, so the bottoms of the bulbs were wet. After about a week, the roots began to emerge:
And the sprouts got taller and taller and longer and longer. Finally, buds appeared between the leaves.  
After about 5 weeks, the first of them opened up, revealing 6 beautiful white flowers (you can see another bud that will soon open on the bottom right of this plant):
The hyacinth will take several weeks longer to flower. We hope to have purple blossoms festooning our windowsill sometime in January!

Have you got any flowers blooming in your house this month? Write in with pictures!

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