Magic Crystal Tree – SICK Science

Create a magically colorful, snow-covered tree.

Impress your friends by creating a colorful Christmas tree out of salt crystals, cardboard, and a few other household items. Within a day, you’ll have a colorful snow-covered tree that seemed to magically sprout from nothing!

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Experiment Materials

  • Mrs. Stewart's Bluing (check your local grocer's cleaning section)
  • Table salt
  • Household ammonia
  • Thin cardboard (like the type from the back of a notepad, not corrugated)
  • Pen or pencil
  • Scissors
  • Bowl
  • Water
  • Measuring spoon
  • Food coloring
  • Adult supervision

Experiment Videos



Trace two Christmas tree shapes onto the cardboard and cut them out.


Cut a slot down the middle of one tree shape. Start at the top and stop in the middle of the shape.


In the other tree shape, cut another slot down the middle. On this shape, start at the bottom and cut to the middle.


Slide the two slots together, creating a three-dimensional tree shape that can stand by itself.


Add drops of food coloring to the edges of the cardboard and let the food coloring soak into the cardboard.


Using the bowl, mix these ingredients together:

  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon bluing
  • ½ tablespoon of household ammonia


Stand your tree in the middle of the bowl containing your magic solution. Over the next 10 to 12 hours, your Magic Crystal Tree will grow and grow and grow! Pretty soon, you’ll have a colorful snow-covered tree!

How Does It Work

You probably have us figured out… that Magic Crystal Tree isn’t magic at all! You’re right, but do you know the science behind the crystalline growth of the cardboard tree?

The main principles at work here are capillary action, evaporation, crystaliztion, and saturation.

Capillary action is the same process that enables plants and trees to take water and nutrients from the soil up through their stems or trunks and into their leaves, branches, flowers, and fruit. The cardboard tree uses the same process to draw the magic solution up through its entire shape until the cardboard has soaked itself in the solution.

After the magic solution has been drawn throughout the tree by capillary action, the solution begins to evaporate. The evaporation process is accelerated by the ammonia, which evaporates more quickly than water. As the magic solution evaporates off of the tree, the crystals are left behind on the branches of the tree.

The magic crystals that are left behind are a combination of the Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing and the table salt. The solution that you created is supersaturated by the bluing and salt that you add to the water. The bluing is a colloid, with many tiny particles suspending themselves within the water. It’s just like when you shake up a snow globe, except the particles of bluing are much smaller than the snow. As the bluing and salt water make their way up the tree, the water begins evaporating. These means there is less water able to support the bluing particles and dissolved salt. This evaporation allows the salt and bluing particles to crystallize, resulting in your beautiful tree.

Science Fair Connection

Growing crystals on a cardboard tree is pretty cool, but it isn’t a science fair project.  You can create a science fair project by identifying a variable, or something that changes, in this experiment.  Let’s take a look at some of the variable options that might work.

  • Change the proportions of ingredients.  For example, use extra salt to see how it affects the growth of the crystals.
  • Change the size or shape of the cardboard tree.  How does this affect the way that the crystals grow?

That’s just a couple of ideas, but you aren’t limited to those! Try coming up with different ideas of variables and give them a try.  Remember, you can only change one thing at a time.  If you are testing different sizes of trees, make sure that the other factors are remaining the same!