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How to Preserve Leaves

A great activity for fall fun is to preserve the beautiful and colorful leaves of this season.

Why do leaves change colors?

The purpose of plant leaves is to harness the sun's energy to feed the tree. They do this with the chloroplasts in leaf cells, which contain the green plant pigment, chlorophyll. The pigment enables leaves to capture the sun's energy to make sugars and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water. During the growing season, the chlorophyll is abundant.

As the weather changes and the days shorten, leaves stop producing chlorophyll. Some tree and shrubs are able to take the carbohydrates left in the leaves and turn them into anthocyanins. These are the red pigments responsible for the reds, pinks and purples in leaves.

As the chlorophyll begins to break down, the anthocyanins become apparent. Other plants are not capable of making the anthocyanins. When the chlorophyll breaks down in these plants, the leaves change to orange and yellow pigments (carotene and xanthophyll). Oranges come from a mix of anthocyanins with the carotenes and xanthophylls.

What are the weather conditions that favor the best fall color?

Dry, sunny and cool conditions but not lots of heavy frost are best for bringing out the reds, oranges, and bright yellows.

Have you ever pressed leaves between sheets of waxed paper to preserve their colors?


1. Place autumn-colored leaves between two layers of wax paper.

2. Cover with an old towel or cloth rag.

3. Press the fabric with a warm iron, sealing the wax paper together with the leaf in between.

4. Cut your leaves out, leaving a narrow margin of wax paper around the leaf edge.


You also can preserve fall leaves in your microwave oven. Choose fresh leaves with the brightest colors. You don't want fallen leaves that already have started to dry. Take separate leaves or small twigs and place them in the oven on top of two pieces of paper towel. Cover them with one sheet of paper towel. Run the oven for 30 to 180 seconds. The drier the leaves, the less time they will need. Be careful; you could start a fire in your microwave if they cook too long.

Be careful and watch. Leaves that curl after removal have not been dried enough. Leaves that scorch, were left in too long. Let the leaves dry for a day or two. Finish the leaves with a sealant, such as an acrylic craft spray.


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