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Expanding the palette of fluorescent dyes is vital to push the frontier of biological imaging. Although rhodamine dyes remain the premier type of small-molecule fluorophore owing to their bioavailability and brightness, variants excited with far-red or near-infrared light suffer from poor performance due to their propensity to adopt a lipophilic, nonfluorescent form. We report a framework for rationalizing rhodamine behavior in biological environments and a general chemical modification for rhodamines that optimizes long-wavelength variants and enables facile functionalization with different chemical groups. This strategy yields red-shifted 'Janelia Fluor' (JF) dyes useful for biological imaging experiments in cells and in vivo.