Leaf Collecting & Crafts
demonstrationactivity exercisesuggested grade levels: 5-12

view Idaho achievement standards for this lesson

Collect some leaves then try some of the leaf preserving and studying crafts below. Before you get started, you may want to make your own botanical press to use for collecting leaves. IT IS IMPORTANT to remember to never dry leaves or flowers inside the pages of a book, the oils in the specimens will ruin the paper!

identification book newspaper old magazine weights
cardboard shellac glue adhesive paper

1. When you collect leaves, be sure to get a variety of kinds, including simple and compound leaves; alternate, opposite and whorled arrangements of leaves; leaves showing both palmate and pinnate venation; and leaves with different margins. Keep leaves from bushes separate from tree leaves so that they are easier to identify. Use a tree identification book both while you are collecting leaves and while you are sorting them to help you find what kinds of leaves you have. Take an old magazine and some loose pieces of newspaper with you on your collecting hike so that you can slip the leaves between the pieces of newspaper into the magazine or carry a botanical press. Then place weights on the magazines and let the leaves dry for several days. Never dry leaves in a book. The moisture from the leaves will ruin the pages.
2. There are several different ways in which you might like to display the leaves you have collected. For example, you can make a display which shows how leaves change color as the weather becomes cold. For this you would collect leaves early in the fall while they are still green, then collect leaves from the same trees after they have changed color, and mount them together.
3. You should have a good way to mount the leaves so they can be handled and easily stored without damage. Try cutting pieces of cardboard which are large enough for one or two leaves. Cover each piece with wood-patterned adhesive paper. Glue the leaf to it and shellac the whole surface including the leaf. This hard surface will protect the leaf from damage when the cards are handled and stacked. The next four crafts suggest other ways of preserving and studying leaves:

Spatter Prints: What you need: white paper, fine mesh screen, toothbrush, water colors, and a wooden form. What you do: For spatter prints, place the leaf on a sheet of paper. Hold a piece of fine mesh screen, nailed to a wooden form, over the leaf. Push a toothbrush, dipped in paint, back and forth over the screen. Be careful that drops do not form on the bottom of the screen. Different colored paints can be used for different leaves.

Smoke Prints: What you need: grease, glass jars, candle, and paper. What you do: Grease the outside of a glass jar. Hold this jar over a candle flame until the whole outside becomes dark gray with carbon. Place a leaf, underside up, on a stack of papers which will act as a cushion. Roll the smoky area of the jar over the leaf. Then put a white sheet of paper over the leaf. Roll again with a clean jar. The details of the leaf will appear on the paper. These are called smoke or carbon prints.

Waxed Leaves: What you need: pan, paraffin wax, heat source, and a string. What you do: Heat the wax until it melts. Dip a leaf into this solution by holding on to the petiole. Tie a string to the petiole and hang the leaf to dry.

Skeleton Leaves: What you need: pressed and dried leaves, paper, hammer, and some plastic envelopes. What you do: To make it easy to study the arrangement of the veins in a leaf, first press and dry the leaf thoroughly. When the leaf is so dry it is brittle, place it between two sheets of paper. Pound it carefully so that all the plant cells except the veins crumble away and just the leaf skeleton remains. These may be sealed in plastic envelopes.

Handouts/Activity links:
These are links to access the handouts and printable materials.
botanical press

Related Lesson Topics:
Biology: Plants

Lesson Plan provided by Dr. Helen Challand and Elizabeth Brandt with permission from Science Activities from A to Z, illustrations by Herb Rudd, 2000
Idaho Achievement Standards (as of 7/2001) met by completing this activity: