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One of my family members got this bonsai tree when I was kid. To my knowledge, it doesn't require food or water - as I've never seen them water it, but it has slowly and steadily grown. Presumably it pulls CO2 from the air to survive.

Click on the photograph for full size

What kind of plant is this?

  • I really have to question whether this plant is alive as I do not see any soil. Is there any better picture with a closeup of the foliage or the base of the plant? – kevinsky Jun 19 '13 at 16:21
  • I was wondering the same thing, kevinsky. I know they keep bonsai in very small pots, but from the photo this looks like it is mounted to a plate. The foliage actually reminds me of a grown-up version one of those crystal growing kits they sell for kids, where you 'grow' foliage on a fake tree from a chemical solution. – michelle Jun 19 '13 at 16:51
  • I have to laugh now that you two have pointed that out. I paid no attention to the base at all. That would account for the lack of needing water. – itsmatt Jun 19 '13 at 18:29
  • If it's a real plant, then yes, it pulls CO2 from the atmosphere. It still needs water, though. But I'm also thinking this isn't a real tree. Appears to be a mossy-type plant/substance growing on top of the wood. – DA. Jun 20 '13 at 1:05
  • Well I'll confess, at first glance, and even at twelfth inspection, I thought it might be plastic or some other fabricated substance... but didn't have the courage to say so! – Bamboo Jun 20 '13 at 14:58
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Right, I got curious about this so I did some Google-fu.

The basic components of a traditional Crystal Tree/Garden are:

  • Laundry Bluing: a suspension of blue dye in water traditionally added to laundry to make textiles appear whiter(!)
  • Table salt (probably Sodium Chloride)
  • Household ammonia (with no soap)
  • Non-porous Bowl
  • Porous growing material

Crystal growing was popularised in the Great Depression. People traditionally used Mrs Stuart's Bluing. Obviously, this didn't escape the company's attention and to that end, they sell crystal growing kits and have an instruction page on their website. Taken from that page:

Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing is a colloidal suspension of extremely minute particles of blue powder (Ferric Hexacyanoferrate). This is not a solution in the true chemical meaning of that word.

As the water from the bluing and the clear water which is first added evaporate, two things happen. The blue particles can no longer be supported and the excess salt cannot stay in solution. The salt crystallization process will take place around the blue particles as nuclei, in much the same way as silver iodide cloud seeding accelerates the formation of rain drops.

... The purpose of the porous material (sponge pieces) is to provide a means for capillary action to carry the liquid containing bluing and salt up from the main source of liquid. This further speeds up evaporation and causes the crystals to form over a larger area than just the rim of the bowl.

What interested me about this question was the illusion of a tree, continually growing. Whilst our poster wasn't looking the family must have added (again from the website) more bluing, salt and water.

Causing the 'tree' to

“bloom” indefinitely into beautiful rosebuds, coral and crystal.

Now I would suspect that the green like growth was due to the family member using a 'greening', i.e., a suspension of green dye in water, rather than blue.

ADDED: Here's an example of a commercially available crystal tree growing kit. It's not as elegant as the poster's, but it serves the point.

  • Ah, so I may have been on to something! Thanks for the info, Mani. That was fascinating! – michelle Jun 21 '13 at 22:05

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