Back Yard Botany

A Leaf Collection

A very important job of the field biologist is to collect specimens and preserve them for comparison and study in the laboratory.  It is also important to keep field notes with each specimen telling where and when it was collected, and any other information that might be helpful later.  For this observation project you are going to get leaves from many trees and bushes, preserve them for study in later projects.

Field activity:

Use a folder, or other means for keeping the collected leaves flat as you carry them.
From each tree (or bush, shrub) in the study area; take several leaves [How to know it's a leaf] which are mature (not still growing) and not chewed on, or damaged.
Write notes about the tree; Its location, name of the tree if you know it, otherwise a description and or sketches that will help to find its name later. [How to find a name]

Laboratory activity:
Preserving the specimens, most leaves, except for those which are very thick and moist (succulent), can be dried and mounted on pages for easy study later.

A.  Place several layers of newspaper on a flat surface where it can remain for weeks, or on a board which can be moved without disturbing the stack. 
   Spread paper towel over the newspaper.
   Place some of the leaves on the towel, don't crowd them, make sure they remain flat.
(Be sure you have a note with each leaf, maybe just a number referring the entry in your field notes, with each leaf so that you will be sure to remember the information that goes with it.)
   Place another towel over the leaves.
   Next, more layers of newspaper.
   Continue alternating layers of leaves and newspaper until all of the leaves are included.
   On top of the last layer of newspaper place a flat weight.  A stack of books is commonly used (Get your money's worth out of that old encyclopedia.), or a board with bricks or rocks on it.

B.  Every two to three days change the paper towels, until the leaves seem pretty well dried.
   Then leave them in the press for another week, and until you are ready to mount them.

C.   Arrange two leaves on a page, one with the top side up and one with the bottom side up.  If the tree has leaves of more than one shape, include others to show the variations.
   Fasten each leaf to the page with transparent tape.
   Write the information about the tree on the page.  Name (see: Finding the name of a tree.), location, date collected, and anything of interest.

Level one.  Organize the pages in one, or more loose leaf notebooks for easy reference in the future for more advanced projects.

Level two.  Arrange the pages in order according to the shapes of the leaves.

Level three.  Using reference books for helpful vocabulary, write a description of the shape of each kind of leaf, as completely as you can.

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How do I know that it is a leaf?
It is easy to mistake a leaflet of a compound leaf for a whole leaf.  Remember, where the petiole (leaf stalk) of a leaf is attached to the stem (branch) of the plant, there is a bud.
Leaf diagram 1.JPG

How do I find the name of that tree?
I already know the names of some trees and shrubs, so those are easy, but for most I don't know a name.  So, what do I do?
I ask people who might know, when that's convenient.  Sometimes they know and sometimes they don't, that's ok (Remember that a tree may have more than one common name.)
When I walk through nurseries and garden departments, I look for trees like the one I'm interested in, and read the tags.
I look through books (Use the library, don't buy your own until you are sure you really want to continue the study.), field guides to trees and shrubs, gardening books.