Leaf Pigment Chromatography – Hands On Science

Fall is a beautiful time of year. The colors of the trees can be just breath-taking and enough to make the kids ask questions like “Why do leaves change color?” “What makes leaves green or red or yellow?”

If your kids aren’t asking, seek maybe you could ask them. See what they say. Do they know the answer? They might know the book answer about chlorophyll and sunlight and the changes fall brings to those levels. Your kids might even know about anthocyanins (another leaf pigment). But, have they seen these pigments in action? Do they know that many pigments may be present in the same leaf but just hidden? Do they know how to find out which ones?

This simple experiment can be a great fall activity that uses the beautiful colors of the season to show how leaves work. First, you will need some supplies:

  • a few leaves (green and other colors if you have them)
  • baby food jars
  • rubbing alcohol
  • coffee filters
  • a tray or pan
  • very warm water

Here’s the process we used:

  1. Tear a leaf into little pieces and put it into a baby food jar. We used an assortment of early fall leaves in different colors and stages and put each leaf in a different jar.
  2. Cover the leaves with an inch of rubbing alcohol.
  3. Using the end of a wooden spoon, grind the leaves into the alcohol.
  4. Lightly put the lids back onto the jars.
  5. Place the jars into a small pan or tray and put 1 inch of hot tap water into the pan.
  6. Leave the jars in the pan for 30 minutes. Swirl the leaves and alcohol every 5 minutes and add warm water as necessary to keep the temperature up.
  7. After the 30 minutes is up, the alcohol should be tinted. Place coffee filter strips into the jars so that the tip of the filter just touches the alcohol. Bend the other end over the edge of the jar so the filter strip doesn’t slip.
  8. Leave the strips in place 30 – 120 minutes. Remove the strips and let them dry. You should be able to see at least one strip of pigment on each strip.


What color is the pigment on the strip? Was there just one color present or more? Does the color on the strip correlate to the color of the original leaf?

Add this to your study of leaves, nature, or fall!

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Hands On Homeschooling, Science is written by science lover and homeschool mom, Marci.

Comments

  1. Love this experiment! Hope to try it soon as we just discussed this very topic during our homeschool time. Much fun!

  2. We’re so doing this! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I would suggest using a mortar and pestle to grind up the leafs before beginning the experiment. You could get much more vibrant colors on your chromatography strip if you do. This is a great science demonstration to accompany discussion of what pigments are in leaves. Those colors are actually best seen in the leaf before it begins to change color. Green leaves work best to show all the pigments. Then you can guess the colors that will show once the plant begins to turn for the winter.

  4. I wonder if this is sixth grade work… but still this project looks awesome! Gonna try it! 🙂

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