Remove leaf tissue to see a beautiful “skeleton” of veins! This project can be done with a variety of fresh leaves in the spring, summer, or fall. (Adult supervision recommended.) Updated 9/8/15.

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What You Need:

  • Leaves: choose fresh, large, green leaves. In this project, we used leaves from a Maple tree, a grape vine, a Buckeye tree, and a Lilac bush. Only the maple tree leaves worked well; the others were not firm enough to withstand the process without tearing. The smaller and softer the leaf, the less likely it is to work well in this experiment. 
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda) You can order the needed small amount here, or buy it in large quantity at the grocery store in the laundry aisle.
  • Metal pot (not aluminum)
  • Forceps or tweezers
  • Paintbrush or extra soft bristle toothbrush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bleach
  • Shallow dish
  • Cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Coated paper plates

What You Do:

Before you begin: An adult should supervise all activities involving the stove or oven!

1. Put a half liter (a little more than 2 cups) of water into the pot.

2. Add 4 ¼ teaspoons of sodium carbonate to the water (or weigh out 20 g with a balance.

3. Place the pot on a stove burner and stir to dissolve the sodium carbonate in the water.

4. Heat the mixture on the stove until it just starts boiling.

5. Add the leaves to the mixture in the pot and turn the heat down to simmer.









6. Let the leaves simmer in the mixture for about 30 minutes.









7. Take the pot off the burner and turn the burner off.

8. Put an inch of cool water in a shallow dish and have it next to the pot of leaves.

8. Use the forceps to carefully remove the leaves from the pot and transfer them to a shallow dish.









9. Put on the rubber gloves and use your finger to very gently swirl the leaves in the fresh water. The sodium carbonate can irritate the eyes and skin, so wear the rubber gloves when immersing your fingers in the mixture, and don’t touch your eyes.

10. Use the forceps to pick up one leaf and transfer it to a coated paper plate. Carefully spread out the leaf so no parts are folded over or underneath.

11. Use the soft toothbrush to carefully brush the green parts of the leaf. Start where the stem attaches, and use short, gentle brush strokes to brush the green leaf tissue toward the ends and outer edges of the leaf.







12. It is helpful to occasionally pour the green gel off the paper plate. You can rinse the paper plate if you are careful not to disturb the leaf. Keep brushing until you have brushed away as much of the leaf tissue as possible. Be gentle and patient!









13. Fill a cup with bleach.

14. Use the forceps to gently transfer the leaf from the shallow dish to the cup of bleach.

15. Let the leaf rest in the bleach for 20 minutes.

16. Use the forceps to remove the leaf from the bleach and let it air dry on a clean paper plate while you work on more leaves.









What Happened:

The part of the leaf you can see now is a complex pattern of hollow veins making up the leaf’s skeleton.  A leaf’s veining system provides food and water to the rest of its cells. Since the leaf is no longer getting the nutrients it needs from the ground through the stem of the plant or tree trunk, its tissue will break down easily. All that remains is the delicate system of veins that make a lacy pattern! Try framing your leaf skeleton, or using it to decorate a homemade card.

Enlarge the image to see the leaf’s vein structure. (Press these two keys on your keyboard together: Ctrl +).