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CHEMICAL GARDENS

Introduction
This is a fun experiment. The so-called silica gardens are demonstration experiments
familiar to many. The life-like appearance of the tubular structures has interested scientists
for centuries, but little is known about their chemical composition. These are formed by
precipitation (a precipitate is formed when a solid appears as you mix two liquids) when
salt crystals are added to a silicate solution
Each metallic salt produces within a few minutes its characteristic structure as a result of
osmotic pressure and the breaking of the insoluble membrane of metal silicate. Previous
addition of small amounts of sodium carbonate or phosphate to the sodium silicate effects a
change in structure.
The way these structures grow as previously said is not yet fully understood but can be
explained in the following sequence:
1- A small amount of metal salt dissolves
2- Silicate reacts and forms a membrane of metal silicate.
3- Waters goes through the membrane and a swelling bubble is formed.
4- The bubble bursts and the liquid inside with dissolved metal salt squirts upwards.
5- This liquid gets immediately wrapped in metal silicate.
6- Process is repeated once and again.

Appropriate metal cations to be used (as salts available in the lab of course) are: copper (II),
iron (II) and (III), nickel, cobalt (II), chromium (III), manganese (II), lead (II), aluminium,
magnesium, calcium and barium.

Aims

To grow a chemical garden with silicate and soluble metal salts.

Lab ware to be used

Beakers or a transparent cylindrical glass, test tubes, spatulas (eventually pipettes), sodium
silicate and sodium carbonate, different metal salts.

Chemical flowerpots: a garden in test tubes.

1- Half fill each of four test tubes with silicate solution Nr 1 (made of 3 parts of water
glass solution and 1 part of water).
2- Add 2 – 3 crystals of a different metal salt to each of the test tubes (one salt per
tube).
3- Let the tubes stand still in a rack and observe after
some time.
4- Eventually, water glass can be washed away with a
stream of tap water. This needs extreme care or the
garden will fall down
5- Repeat 1 through 4 but using silicate solution Nr 2
(made of 3 parts of water glass and 1 part of 5 %
sodium carbonate solution).

Chemical flowerbeds: a garden in a flask

1- Use either a small beaker or a glass pot. Fill it with either


solutions Nr 1 or 2 (according to your results) up to 7 –
10 cm.
2- Now add some sand to form a “rock bed” for the
“plants”. Let the sand sediment: the liquid should look
fairly transparent.
3- Add crystals of all four salts used for the flowerpots
carefully and not too close to each other.
4- Let it stand for some time and (if you want to keep it,
wash the water glass away as you did before.