Pine Cone Floo Powder

February 2015 Prof. Scarlet Leslie

After a day full of snowball fights and building snowmen, it is nice to be able to unwind in front of a warm fireplace. But just because the snow is restricted to the outdoors does not mean that your fun is as well.

Even those who dread chemistry class have to admit that fire and colors are a delightfully "hot" combination. The flame test is a qualitative procedure used to detect metal ions. Different elements emit different amounts of energy when they are excited by heat, which can be seen by us as different colors.

You can use this natural property to add some color to your fires. While you are running around outdoors, collect some pine cones. Then, pick a salt and dissolve it in water. Allow the pine cones to soak in the solution overnight.

Which salt should you use? That depends on what color you are aiming for.

Regular table salt, or sodium chloride, will burn as an intense yellow.

Calcium compounds will turn the fire orange.

Strontium chloride, an ingredient in toothpaste for sensitive teeth, turns bright red in fire.

Potassium burns as a faint lilac or purple. It can be found in salt substitutes, fertilizer, and as a deicing agent.

Lithium will produce a brilliant pink.

Yellow-green can be achieved by soaking pine cones in laundry detergent, which contains borax or sodium borate.

If you want to get the bright emerald green that is reminiscent of Floo powder being thrown in fire, then you must use boric acid, commonly used as an insecticide, or copper sulfate.

Prepare the salt-soaked pine cones whenever you get a chance. Then, toss one in the fireplace and enjoy the colorful show in front of you while you sip on your extra large mug of hot cocoa!