Not that my kids need any convincing to eat bread, but here is a fun spin on a yeast bread that only requires one extra step to get a gorgeous purple-blue hue without a flavor change!
Why make blue bread, you ask? I don’t know, why not? It’s pretty, it makes you go wow, and its a fun special activity to do with your kids.
All you have to do is replace the water in your recipe with strongly brewed butterfly pea flower tea. Butterfly pea flowers contain a large amount of the amazing class of molecules called anthocyanins. They normally appear as a gorgeous, deep purple-blue color in nature, commonly seen in blueberries, but anthocyanins are also responsible for the deep pinks found in fruits like pomegranates and cranberries.
Butterfly pea flowers are still pretty new to western supermarkets, so I buy mine from Amazon here.
To make this bread, I added 1/2 cup of loose butterfly pea flowers to 2 1/2 cups of water in a sauce pan, brought them to a boil over medium high heat, removed from heat, and let the flowers steep for about 10 mins. The resulting tea should be a very dark, dark blue. I waited for the tea to cool to about 105F, added the recipe’s sugar, then proofed the yeast straight in the tea. Afterwards, I just followed the normal recipe.
Butterfly pea flower tea doesn’t really taste like anything, maybe slightly reminiscent of normal green peas but not off-putting when you drink it by itself (kind of boring to me though). In the bread, the taste was undetectable. If you’re familiar with anthocyanins, you might be wondering if this bread changes color, as anthocyanins will change to pink when in acidic conditions. It does, but I couldn’t get it to change under normal palatable bread conditions. If we doused it with lemon, it changed to a bright pink after a few minutes, but then we had soggy lemon bread. Not too great, but still pretty. I want to try using cultured butter one day, as that is slightly acidic. Let me know if you ever try this yourself!
When you find yourself with lots of leftover flowers after you make this loaf, try some of these other activities with your kids that utilize butterfly pea flower tea! It undergoes a color change at different pH values, which opens the door to some amazing projects! (Some of these project say to use red cabbage juice, but that and butterfly pea flower are interchangeable for color changing activities).
I have this thing with plants. I dream of having a rainforest in my home one day, but until recently, I’ve had a pretty black thumb. I tried to grow many different house plants when I got my first place, but I killed every single one of them. From fungus gnat larvae bursting through the soil after I tried to set up a DIY home irrigation system from leftover LPLC parts, to hydrogen sulfide-producing bacteria in the soil of a philodendron making my little condo smell like the end-days of the Permian extinction, it was pretty much a comedy of errors.
Fast forward 8 years later, I have a fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) taller than me, a healthy, full rubber plant (Ficus elastica), and a huge snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) that are my pride and joy, along with several other newer plants dotting our home. I didn’t raise these plants without problems though. For example, the snake plant and I battled a nasty (I mean NASTY) millipede infestation soon after I first bought it (This is where Anna first learned to use tweezers at 2.5-years-old: picking baby millipedes out of the soil. Talk about honing those fine-motor skills).
Plant motherhood is not all glamorous foliage, but the most important thing I learned is that you can’t just buy any plant at Home Depot, water the crap out of it, and expect it to thrive. You have to learn what each plant needs: soil type (airy, dense, sandy, etc), light (high, low, morning, etc), watering (drainage, frequency, dry depth, etc.), general care (humidity, cleaning, pruning, etc). In doing so, I’ve really come to appreciate every little thing about my plants, from the different types of variegation on each leaf to the climate where they were originally from.
The amazing teacher and science communicator, Naomi Volain, created a beautiful website called Plants Go Global to educate and raise awareness about plants to help solve our planet’s environmental problems. A part of this movement is appreciating the beauty of plants and fighting “plant blindness”- where the plants we see everyday just fade into the background of our view, not focusing on the importance, diversity, and striking beauty of them. I have combatted my own plant blindness by becoming a plant mom at home, and I hope to pass this on to my kids by educating them on everything from house plants to vegetable gardens to plant anatomy and biodiversity. Visit the site for more information!
Recently, my snake plant was blown over by the wind from an open window and a long leaf snapped off. I decided to use it to make some new plants. The process is so simple that a three-year-old can do it (and she did). Read on below in the discussion for more about the science behind propagation through cuttings, and some tips to do this project with a child.
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Healthy mother plant
Pot or container with drainage
Proper rooting medium. This replaces soil for the time being (see below for why). The medium needs to be airy, light (not compact), well draining, non-nutritive, and moist. There are several ways to achieve this:
Method (How to make plant cuttings for propagation)
Put your cutting medium into the container.
Lay the leaf down and mark a dot every 4-6 inches (see the image to the right).
Cut just below the dot with sharp scissors. If you’re doing this with a child, try to show them the picture or describe the process to them without doing it for them. It is a good exercise in following directions. Needless to say, be careful with scissors and young children.
Prepare holes for the cuttings to go into the potting medium (i.e. wiggle a pencil in there to make a line the shape of the leaf). This is so you don’t rub off the rooting hormone when you stick the cutting in there.
(Optional, though recommended) Dip the dot-side of the leaf into rooting hormone (see discussion section for what this is). I would do this step myself for younger children, but older ones can do it, just make sure they wash their hands afterwards. If you dip the wrong side in, it will not grow.
Put the cuttings into the pot, dot-side down, about 1.5 inches deep or so the leaf won’t tip over. If the wrong side gets put in the dirt, it will not grow (which is why the dots are helpful).
Water, then cover with a plastic bag to keep it moist.
Keep the medium moist and warm, and soon (2-10 weeks) you will have roots! To check, very very gently tug on the leaf. If there is resistance, you probably have roots.
Gently dig up the roots and plant in normal potting soil. A new plant will begin to grow from a newly formed rhizome and pop up through the soil. Snake plants are slow growers, so this might take a while.
Don’t worry if your cutting dies instead of takes root. It happens. When we did this, only 2 of our 7 rooted (but we did this without rooting hormone because I couldn’t find it after our move).
There is SO MUCH science going on here, it’s crazy. I’ll go through some highlights.
This is an asexual process so your new plant and old plant will have the same DNA. Propagation through cuttings is a form of plant cloning. I think this is what they did with Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy II 😉
You want the medium that you put the cuttings into to be non-nutritive to discourage pathogen growth. I’ve also read that you don’t want the plant to take up any nutrients to discourage leaf growth and encourage root growth (so it’ll send roots out searching for more nutritive soil).
You want the cutting to be big enough that it can still get some energy from photosynthesis, but small enough that it’s stressed to encourage root growth. Four to six inches seems to be the sweet spot for snake plants.
Rooting hormone! Although many plants may still root without it, using rooting hormone will up your chances of success. Most commercial rooting hormones are indole-3-butyric acid.
Hormones are molecules that cells and tissues use to communicate. In this case, it signals plants to grow roots.
Stem cells (not talking about cells in the stem of plants, confusing, I know) are special cells that can form other types of cells. The process of a stem cell becoming a specific type of cell is called differentiation. Plants, humans, and all animals began from stem cells differentiating. In the stems of plants, there are partially differentiated stem cells (Stem cells in stems! They couldn’t think of a different word here?!) that when stimulated, will start differentiating down the path to create more root cells. The injury from cutting the plant is stimulus enough to start this process, but you can help it along by using rooting hormone.
We all know the “seed in a ziplock bag in the window” project to begin to teach kids about plants, but there are so many other educational and fulfilling projects to do with them. Having them join in with typical houseplant or garden chores is a great way to teach them about plants, responsibility, and pride in your work (and also handling frustration when 80% of your cuttings die). It is also a great way to encourage a love and appreciation of plants, and to fight plant blindness! Snake plants are a great place to start because they are easy to propagate and hard to kill.
For this project, you want to make sure your child knows the main parts of a plant (roots, stem, leaves). It can be as simple as:
Roots get nutrients from the soil
Leaves make energy (carbohydrates) from sunlight through photosynthesis
Stems help deliver nutrients and carbohydrates throughout the plant.
The snake plant is a little confusing because the stem isn’t obvious, but it’s good to learn about the vast variation in plant life.
Depending on their age and science background, you can introduce some of the concepts above, like stem cells or how cells use molecules (the rooting hormone) to communicate. This is an easy yet powerful project that highlights some key concepts about plants and life.
Check out PlantsGoGlobal.com for more information and ideas about plants!
Pepitas, the inside of pumpkin seeds, fluoresce under UV light! It is a stunning coral orange color. This photo doesn’t quite do it justice. The compound causing the fluorescence is protochlorophillide, a precursor to chlorophyll. (Chlorophyll is also fluorescent under UV light, but it glows a deep red.)
The seeds themselves have a slight glow if you shine a black light on them but in my picture at the top, they are crushed with isopropanol (rubbing alcohol), which solubilizes the pigment. We found this fluorescence by mistake actually. Several things in your pantry fluoresce under UV light (like honey, canola oil, tonic water, and peanut butter) and my daughter and I were scanning our shelves for other surprises. Sure enough we saw a faint glow on some of the hulled pumpkin seeds. I did a little research online and found out about protochlorophyllide. We also saw a similar glow from brown rice that was slightly green on the edge and I wonder if it’s the same molecule!
One of my goals is to create simple science projects and demos that parents, caregivers, and teachers can easily perform using everyday supplies. I love this color changing lava lamp because it does exactly that. It illustrates so many concepts of chemistry, has ingredients you might already have (or can easily grab from the grocery store), and it is quite frankly AWESOME. So pour yourself some red cabbage juice, oil, and Alka-Seltzer and watch the science happen!
Springtime in rural Vermont is magical. It’s not just the melting snow with rivers of mud, it’s also magical because it’s maple syrup season. For a brief period each year the sap really flows and those lucky enough to have sugar maples can harvest the sweet nectar and boil it down into the delicious breakfast treat. For our budding family, “sugaring” has become a great outdoor adventure that helps combine some of the things we love: nature, science, and eating. Read on to learn how you can make your own maple syrup at home, and for ways you can use the experience to teach some science to your kids.
This post is part of our Summer of Science series! Check back periodically to find more fun, easy, and affordable experiments and projects you can do at home with your kids this summer. This project is about the enzyme, bromelain, which degrades other proteins. You will use it to turn chicken to mush while learning about experimental set up, controls, and the wonderful world of enzymes.
Oh, the first time I learned about bromelain was in college on a trip to Hawaii (I got a chance to observe Mars on the NASA IRTF on Mauna Kea). My friends and I flew there a week earlier than our telescope time to explore the islands a bit. One day, we each bought a fresh pineapple and each ate. the. whole. thing. Never do this, it was awful. I mean it tasted absolutely delicious, but our tongues and mouths were sloughing skin off for a few days as they recovered from being eaten themselves by the enzyme, bromelain.
Pineapple fruit has a very high concentration of fruit bromelain, a protein that can break down other proteins, aka a “proteolytic enzyme”.