Thursday, November 14, 2013

Autumn Leaf Identification Cards

A few weeks ago I came across some beautiful fall lead cards from one of the inspirational crafting blogs I follow called Imagine Our Life. The cards featured printed fall leaves in gorgeous colors, laminated and ready to play matching games.

Stephanie's Montessori Autumn Leaf 3-part Cards on Imagine Our Life

As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to do something similar. But when I showed them to my botanist husband, he objected that the leaves were not printed at real-life sizes. Plus, it would be a whole lot more fun if the girls and I collected and pressed real autumn leaves from our neighborhood. Collin borrowed a nice leaf press from the university herbarium for us to use, and we were all set.

Over a few days, we took several slow walks around our neighborhood, picking up the most beautiful leaves from as many different types that we could find. Immediately after bringing them home, we'd place them between layers of newspaper in the plant press, close it up, and tighten the belts closing the press as hard as we could. If you want to try this but don't have a large plant press like this one, any plant press or even newspapers in heavy books will do the trick.

One tip Collin gave us on drying the leaves more efficiently was to place the plant press sideways on top of the largest heat run. That way the warm air would blow through the corrugation of the cardboard. In this picture you can see the plant press sharing the heat run with Annie and Jenny.

After the leaves had dried at least 24 hours they were ready to be mounted. I glued them to white cardstock with basic white glue. The glue was in a bottle with an especially fine point, which helped accurately apply it. I squeezed fine lines of the glue along all the major veins of the leaves, including the stem, and then carefully pressed the leaves to the cardstock. The white cardstock was all cut to 5 x 8 inches, and the blue mounting cardstock were half-sheets, all 5.5 x 8.5 inches. This seemed to be a good size to fit most moderate-sized leaves, and multiple examples of small ones.

Collin insisted we label them with the scientific binomial names as well as the common ones. Those are also printed on cardstock, and just attached with glue stick glue.

After the glue dried overnight, I covered them with contact paper. I was in a hurry when I bought the contact paper, and I grabbed a roll of clear matte instead of glossy. I'm not sure if there were any rolls of super-clear contact paper, but I know I've used it in the past and it would have been better. The vinyl didn't seal around the leaves very well, and I was pretty disappointed with the initial results. Then I decided to try heating the contact paper with my hairdryer to see if I could get it to melt a little and seal more like lamination. It worked great!

If you look closely at the picture below, you'll see there are two cards of Sugar Maple leaves. I did this so I'd have a card to try each step (gluing, labeling, applying contact paper, and hair-dryer laminating) on a spare card in case I made any mistakes the first time through.

Here they all are! Twenty cards, with nineteen varieties of autumn leaves in all shapes and colors. Someday, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a bulletin board in our school room and will be able to put these up for our fall nature study. In the mean time, the girls can use these to learn the different textures and colors of autumn leaves without the leaves cracking and disintegrating. The semi-warterproof coating means Jenny won't be able to eat them easily. And Collin has a fun game to play with the big girls in the evening. 

Collin: "Annie, can you say Acer?"
Annie: "A-ser!"
Collin: "Saccharum"
Annie: "Sak-KAR-rum!"
Collin: "Very good! Now, can you say 'Quercus muehlenbergii?"


  1. Have you seen "50 Trees of Indiana"? It's a little booklet with an identification for 50 native species of trees in Indiana. It would be fun to use with your cards. Very suitable for elementary school students, good for nature studies where native trees are abundant. Much less overwhelming than larger field guides. FWIW :)

  2. Sounds great! I'll have to look into it. Collin's favorite field guide is 101 Trees of Indiana, but my usual method of identification is to take Collin for a walk and say, "So, what is that tree?" :-)

  3. 50 Trees of Indiana is my go-to book for tree identification, too. (Kara - it's the small book with a white and green cover.) Just enough. I think I might have picked it up at a state park.