How to conduct a leaf chromatography experiment at home

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fall leaves

By Madyson Black

What is one of the most signature signs that autumn has arrived? If you answered leaves falling and covering the ground, you’re correct. 

There are a few different activities you can do with those fallen leaves aside from raking and playing in them. One of those activities is a leaf chromatography experiment. 

Chromatography is the separation of a mixture by passing through a solution. Leaf chromatography is an experiment that enables you to discover and observe the different color pigmentations contained in leaves. Leaves can have hidden colors not visible to the naked eye and the process of chromatography allows for us to separate those colors and see them. 

Before the cooler months approach, most leaves are green. The green pigment in leaves/plants is called chlorophyll, and chlorophyll is responsible for generating oxygen in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the action by which plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to create oxygen and energy. Now that we have all of our scientific terms covered, let’s get to the fun part.

Materials needed

The first thing we need to do is collect all of our materials. For this experiment, you will need: paper towels or coffee filters, rubbing alcohol, chip clip or clothespin, small mason jars or glasses, scissors, leaves of different colors and something to grind or crush down the leaves. After you have gathered your materials, gather some leaves and it’s time for the next step.

Directions

You will need to cut your paper towels or coffee filters into thin enough strips that they fit into your mason jar. Next, cut the leaves into small pieces, make sure to keep them separated by color. 

Place the cut-up leaves into mason jars putting the different colored leaves each in their own jar. For example, we collected a green leaf, yellow leaf, orange leaf and red leaf and each color went into a separate mason jar after it was cut-up. 

Take a rock or smooth, rounded object after you have placed the leaves into the jars and grind up the leaf pieces. Next, pour just enough rubbing alcohol to cover the leaves in each jar. 

Place your strips of paper towels/coffee filters far enough into the jar that they are barely immersed into the rubbing alcohol and secure them with your clip/clothespin at the top of the jar to keep them from moving or falling down in. 

Place the jars in a secure place and allow the rubbing alcohol to absorb into the paper strips for as little as a few hours up to overnight. Remove the strips and allow them to dry.

Finally, your experiment is complete. Observe the different colors contained in the leaves you picked and see if you’re able to identify what tree species they came from. Try this experiment with your friends and family and see if they come up with different colors. 

We’d love to see your results, feel free to send them or post them to our Facebook page @guernseycountyswcd. 

(Madyson Black is the Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District education and natural resources specialist.)

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