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Strip a leaf naked so you can examine the skeleton {Forest Science}

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I ran across the coolest looking art project while scanning through Pinterest the other day. It's for color-tinted leaf skeletons and I just knew that I had to share a scientific twist on this activity with you guys!

I'll warn you, this is a bit involved and you will need some supplies that you probably don't have lying around your house, but it's totally worth the effort!

Let's dig in...

How to Create Leaf Skeletons

Materials Needed

  • Super Washing Soda (This can be found in the laundry detergent aisle. And it's typically made by Arm & Hammer.)
  • Magnolia leaves (You need a sturdy, waxy leaf for this project. You can use oak or maple leaves, but they will be much more fragile to handle and you will need to cut your cooking time by an hour.)
  • Crockpot
  • Water
  • Tongs
  • Colander
  • Bleach
  • 2 Bowls

Steps to Complete

  1. Add your leaves, one cup of super washing soda, and six cups of water to the crock pot. Set it on high and let it do its thing for about four hours or so. (NOTE - Be sure that the crock pot is in a well-ventilated area as this can get a bit stinky.)
  2. After several hours, use the tongs to remove the leaves, place them in the colander, and gently rinse. (NOTE - An icky white scale may develop in the bowl of your crock pot, but done worry - soak it in water with a bit of soap and after five minutes it will wipe right out.)
  3. Add the rinsed leaves to the bowl and add 3 cups of clean, fresh water plus 1/2 cup of bleach. Allow the leaves to soak for about 30 minutes. 
  4. Fill the another bowl halfway with cool clean water. Then, use the tongs to remove the leaves one at a time. Place them in the bowl and use your fingers or an old toothbrush to very, very gently remove the flesh, revealing the leaf skeleton!
  5. Place the skeleton on a paper towel to dry and observe. (NOTE - You can mount the bare-boned leaves on a white sheet of paper to preserve them for further observations.)

Results & Explanation

The job of a leaf is to collect sunlight for photosynthesis. This process converts the energy in light into energy the plant can use to make food. In the leaf, this food is created and then transported throughout the plant to a series of tubes, called vascular tissue, which make up the leaves skeleton. These are the "bones" you are seeing in the leaf when the process is finished.

The super washing soda, heat, and the bleach all work together to break down the tender, fleshy part of the leaf - leaving behind the skeleton of vascular tissue.

Additional Resources

Looking for some easy-to-use science plans that will teach your students about the leaves? Here is what we offer:

Or check out our Forest Science Pinterest Board:

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  • Paige Hudson
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