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How to Use Leaf Chromatography to Predict Fall Leaf Color

How to Use Leaf Chromatography to Predict Fall Leaf Color

The leaves around here are just now really starting to show some color, and many of the trees are still entirely green.

Did you know you can predict what color those green leaves will turn?

Yep, those beautiful fall colors are in the leaves all along.

You can make them come out with Autumn Leaf Chromatography!

Supplies to Predict the Fall Colors of Tress

5 Simple Steps to Perform Autumn Leaf Chromatography

1. Obviously, the first step is to collect a variety of leaves: green, red, and yellow.  I tried to get a few sets from the same tree, so we had one green leaf and one that had already changed.

We used a red maple leaf and a green leaf from the same tree, a maple leaf from another tree, a yellow mystery leaf that I think is from an elm , a green one from the same mystery tree, a dark green leaf from a mystery tree, a redbud leaf, a pear leaf, and what I think is a walnut leaf.

2. Then we tore up the leaves in some clear glasses.

3. Next, we added enough rubbing alcohol to cover the leaves and waited.

It seemed like we had to wait a couple hours for the colors to really show.  I think part of it may be that we picked the leaves the day before, and they had dried out some.

After sitting for a couple hours most of the colors were apparent in the glasses.

4. Once the colors were visible, we added strips of coffee filter to each glass.  

5. We allowed those to sit for 3-4 hours.

We pulled out the coffee filter strips once it looked like they had stopped absorbing the rubbing alcohol.

Using Chromatography to Predict Fall Leaf Color

On the filters we observed bands of color.  There was at least one band of color which was the same color the leaf appeared when we started.

Most, however, had a second band.  For the green leaves the second band of color was what they would most likely turn as the weather cooled.

My walnut leaf had a yellowish brown band as well as a green band, the redbud had a yellow band as well as a green one, and the pear leaf had a brown band as well as a dark green one.

These were my elm? leaves.  One has a yellow line as it had already turned; while the other has a yellowish green line int he same spot.  They both have the brown line at the top.

These are my maple leaves.  The red one had a dark brownish band at the top ; while the green one had the same brownish band as well as green bands at the bottom.

From this experiment, it looked as if most of our leaves we re going to turn some shade of brown. We did have a couple yellow or yellow with brown, but even the red didn't give a really clear red.

Again it may have been because the leaves were dry as the red leaf didn't give much color at all (very surprising).

You could definitely appreciate how the green leaves had other colors hiding in them that showed up in the filter though.

Why do Leaves Change Color in the Fall

Leaves are green because they are actively producing chlorophyll as a result of the sun. Chlorophyll s what enables the leaf to turn sunlight into food, and it also happens to be green.

That green color masks the other colors in the leaves. At least until the leaf begins to die in the fall and stops producing chlorophyll.

Once the chlorophyll is gone, the other colors in the leaf come through!


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