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Weather Academy: Colors in Leaves Experiment

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 6:28 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2021 at 12:14 PM CST
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Welcome back to the Weather Academy. Last week Sheena taught us all about why leaves change color. This week we’re going to be doing an experiment to show the different chemical pigments that are left behind once the leaves change color and the chlorophyll breaks down.

What you’ll need:

  • Small jars
  • Coffee filters
  • Leaves of different colors
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Spoon

Steps:

  1. You’re going to head outside and collect leaves of every color. Once you get those, bring them inside and organize them by color, put them into their own piles.
  2. Break the leaves up into little pieces and place them into the respective jars. The smaller the pieces, the better the colors will turn out.
  3. Pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves until they are completely covered.
  4. Mash and stir the leaves into the rubbing alcohol until the alcohol turns the color of the leaves. The better the mashing, the better the experiment will turn out. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Take your coffee filter and shape it into a cone. Place the point of the cone into the leaf and rubbing alcohol mixture and let it sit overnight.
  6. The color of the leaves should climb the coffee filter, we should be able to see an array of different colors.

Why does this happen?

The rubbing alcohol has separated the chlorophyll and other chemical pigments from the leaves. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is so dominant it hides the other colors in the leaves. As trees shut down for the winter, the green chlorophyll breaks down in the leaves. As the bright green fades away, it allows for the other colors to finally shine through and show their beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges. Yellow leaves have pigments called xanthophyll, orange leaves have a pigment called carotene. Anthocyanins give leaves their intense red and purple pigments. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along.

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