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Collecting and saving leaves in scrapbooks and nature journals is a fun activity for families to do together, creating reminders of memorable hikes, camping trips, or walks at your local parks. Even with all the tree leaf identification resources available online today, you still can't beat using a real, preserved leaf to assist you in looking up different types of trees and plants. Or you can document different colorings on the same trees from year to year in your own backyard, tracking how wet and hot the spring and summer were and noting the effect on the trees' leaf colors that year.
Pressing leaves using wax paper is an easy alternative to a building and using a plywood leaf press because the device is bulky and takes some time and effort to construct. Using wax paper captures some color, highlights a leaf's structure, and the project is manageable from a time and materials standpoint. You likely have all the materials you need already, without needing a special shopping trip to hunt them down.
- 10 minutes per leaf
What You Need
- Wax paper
- Wooden cutting board
- Thin towel
- Warmed iron
- Collect the leaf or several leaves that most represent an average-looking leaf of the tree species. Have a few samples of each kind you wish to preserve, in case one gets damaged. Inspect your specimens for fungus or insects before taking them with you.
- Back at home, place a collected leaf between two layers of wax paper with plenty of room to trim and preserve the wax "seal."
- Open a towel on a wooden cutting board. Put the wax paper leaf sandwich onto the towel and then fold it over the top of the specimen. A thin kitchen dish towel is preferable to a thick terrycloth towel. You can even use paper towels.
- Turn the iron on medium dry heat, and evenly iron over the towel. The heat will seal the leaf between the wax paper sheets. After a couple of minutes of ironing, flip over the folded towel and iron the specimen from the other side as well. The wax paper should get somewhat clearer as it melts around the leaf.
- When cool, trim the wax paper specimen to fit a piece of white paper. Label the page, and insert it and the preserved leaf into a three-ring sheet protector. Keep your collection in a binder.
- Depending on the tree species, a green leaf may brown a bit. This is normal and should be considered when reviewing leaf color.
- Bring your collected leaves home between the pages of a book or notebook, as they could get crumpled or torn in your pocket or bag.
- Children should not use a hot iron without adult supervision (or even may need adult help, depending on the age of the child).
- Do not take leaves from national parks.
- Make sure your local state parks don't have any restrictions before picking leaves, such as not going off the marked trails, or not touching endangered species. Some parks may not allow the picking of any plants.
- Learn what poison ivy and poison oak look like, so you don't accidentally take leaves from those plants.