The Chemical Tree.

1st January 2016. Trusting that you have all had a Happy Christmas, and are enjoying a good New Year holiday! I certainly did, and still am. My two children always give me ‘novelty Xmas presents’, and one such this year, was a Chemical Tree. They know I love these old-time Victorian Science things. Chemical Gardens have of course been known for ages, where one takes some water-glass or Isinglass – Sodium Silicate I think it is – and drop into it crystals of various metallic salts. Presumably, Silicates of Copper, Nickel, Magnesium &c are formed, and grow into interesting shapes. But this Chemical Tree is better still! Consisting simply of two cardboard Christmas Tree shapes which fit together, it is obviously impregnated with various chemicals, and when the sachet of liquid provided is poured into the base, in a very short time, effloresences of different colours are produced, as you see above. And it all happened within about four or five hours of setting the thing up. Delightful!

What I want to talk about now, is the leaflet that came with the item.


This is the front of it. Very attractive, and what it says is perfectly true.


This is the back of the box, the top of which correctly shows the transformation of the cardboard basis of the tree, into the beautiful product, in about 4 hours, as attested by my own photograph at the top of this page; which is, if anything, even more refulgent than the one on the box. However, the bottom half of the reverse carries bold Warnings in seven languages as to the Dangers attending this item. Inside the box is a leaflet, which sets the whole thing out most plainly. Here is the English version, via OCR.

General First Aid Advice.

In case of skin contact, wash affected area with plenty of water. In case of eye contact, wash out with plenty of water! holding eye open and seek immediate medical advice. If swallowed, wash out mouth with water, drink some fresh water. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Seek immediate medical advice. In case of doubt seek medical advice without delay. Take the chemical and/or product, together with the container, with you.

In case of injury always seek medical advice.

Advice for Adults.

  1. a) This chemical toy is for use only for children over the age of 10 years.
  2. b) Read and follow these instructions, the safety rules and the, first aid information and keep them for reference.
  3. c) Incorrect use of chemicals can cause injury and damage to health. Only carry out those activities which are listed in the instructions.
  4. d) Because children’s abilities vary so much, even within age groups, supervising adults should exercise discretion as to which activities are suitable and safe for them. The instructions should enable supervisors to assess any activity to establish its suitability for a particular child.
  5. e) The supervising adult should discuss the warnings, safety information and the possible hazards with the child or children before commencing the activities.
  6. f) The area surrounding the activity should be kept clear of any obstructions and away from the storage of food. It should be well lit and ventilated and close to a water supply. A solid table with a heat resistant top should be provided.
  7. g) The working area should be cleaned immediately after carrying out the activity, use protective gloves and plenty of water. Liquid can be disposed of down the sink.

Safety Rules.

Keep younger children under the specified age limit away from the activity area.

Store chemical toys out of reach of young children. Wash hands after carrying out the activities.

Clean all equipment after use.

Do not use any equipment which has not been supplied with the set or recommended in the instructions for use. Do not eat, drink or smoke in the activity area.

Do not place the material in the mouth.

Do not inhale dust or powder.

Do not apply to the body.

Do not allow material to come into contact with eyes Do not inhale vapours.


Right. That would seem to be 381 words of warning, which if fair enough; after all, you don’t want to go swallowing strange chemicals – that goes without saying.

The trouble is, having the Warnings in seven languages means that the type size on the leaflet is very small, making it difficult to read:


In vain, even after cleaning my glasses, I could not find the actual Instructions for activating the Chemical Tree. I was very puzzled by this. Making the vast assumption that seven languages might entail some 2,500 words of Advice and Warning (all to the safety & well-being of the consumer) where were the actual Instructions for activating the Tree? I turned the paper over and over, without enlightenment – until it suddenly dawned on me that the INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE consisted only of the three numbered drawings 1-3. You just put the two halves of the tree together, lock it into the plastic base, and poured in the liquid from the plastic sachet, which would soak up into the cardboard tree and activate the chemicals.

Anyway, as you can see, it worked OK!

But why, oh why, should 2,500 words of Warning be necessary, when just three drawings without any words at all, are sufficient to activate the Tree?

Why not just print:

Worse still, we cite (d) above:

  1. d) Because children’s abilities vary so much, even within age groups, supervising adults should exercise discretion as to which activities are suitable and safe for them. The instructions should enable supervisors to assess any activity to establish its suitability for a particular child.

I find this extremely curious, because for many decades, the government of the UK has implemented education policies which tend to treat all children as if they all had pretty much the same abilities. Somebody MUST be wrong!  8^)

We live & learn.

Happy New Year 2016!


Page written 1st January 2016.