How to preserve a leaf?
October 17, 2011 4:59 AM   Subscribe

In about two weeks time, Stockholm city will cut down one of the oldest oak trees in the city. How to preserve a leaf?

The "TV Oak" in front of Oxenstiensgatan 23 is estimated to be over 1000 years old. It is rotten, infected with fungus and pretty clearly a hazard to traffic and the buildings close by to it. After many years of trying to save it, the city announced last week that they will have to cut it down.

My question: how to save/preserve a leaf? My kids have climbed on this tree and I'd like to put a leaf in their journals as a keepsake.
posted by three blind mice to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I was a kid, we used to use an iron on low and press fall leaves between two sheets of waxed paper. My mother still has a number of those leaves in her collection of childhood papers, so maybe that's a way of doing it?
posted by xingcat at 5:04 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks xingcat. I also did this as a kid - and it was my first thought - but I thought I would anyway as the hive as I will not get a second chance.
posted by three blind mice at 5:08 AM on October 17, 2011

You can laminate them, if you have access to a machine. This will keep the colour longer. The ironing-between-waxed-paper method isn't as pretty as just dipping them in beeswax, but neither preserves them for all time. I've never tried the microwave method, or the glycerin method, but if you have a few leaves to experiment with, there's a thought. They sound like it might be something more permanent. You can also do a rubbing.
posted by peagood at 5:25 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can rub a leaf with vegetable oil (olive, canola, etc.) to preserve it. You need to do this every few days for weeks, but the ultimate result is a nice, soft leaf which holds its color. Disclaimer: I only saw the results after a few months, I didn't see the results after years.
posted by anaelith at 5:29 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Before you preserve the leaf, put it in a flatbed scanner and take a high res scan. Get that printed at actual size and put it next to the preserved leaf in the scrapbook.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:29 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have some leaves that I laminated 7 years ago and they look exactly the same now as they looked on the day I did it. I don't know how well they will hold up over longer periods of time, given the chemicals in the plastic, but it was easy and they look good so far. One potential problem I see with some of the other preservation methods (glycerine, oil, wax, etc) is that if you put something greasy into a paper journal, you'll end up with grease stains.
posted by Jemstar at 6:35 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Embedding in Lucite?

Here's a previous AskMe about DIY, here's a commercial company.

Though there are obviously caveats re organic material, I know I've seen leaves/flowers/insects in Lucite that are years old.
posted by likeso at 6:58 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Isn't this acorn season? Has the tree produced acorns this year despite the fungus? If I were you I'd try to grab a couple of those, too, and plant a new tree. Even if you don't have a place to plant it right away, a tree grown from seed will stay small enough for a pot for several years.

When I was in high school we preserved leaves in biology class by drying them in a book press and then sandwiching them between sheets of clear contact paper and white paper. It was tricky to do without wrinkles, and I don't know how archival it would be long-term, but I seem to recall that I had my tree leaf book for 5 years or so (before it was lost in a move) and the leaves were all still in good shape. Maybe you could get a few leaves from the tree and try a few different methods.
posted by BlueJae at 7:59 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have christmas ornaments that are silver & copper leaves where the leaf part is removed & the network/structure remains as filigree. They are beautiful. Google "leaf filigree ornament" or similar & you'll see lots of them. It appears to be a simple process but might take some doing to find a local artist who can do it quickly.
posted by headnsouth at 8:10 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a number of (framed, under glass) Victorian era leaves and flowers that have been pressed dry to preserve them. (Victorian women were big on these sorts of 'nature crafts' - see also seashell art and pictures made out of moss.)

Here's some directions from one Victorian-era 'handbook for ladies':
"When drying botanical specimens for preservation, the plants you wish to preserve should be gathered when the weather is dry; and after placing the ends in water, let them remain in a cool place till the next day. When about to be submitted to the process of drying, place each plant between several sheets of blotting paper, and iron it with a large, smooth heater pretty strongly warmed, till all the moisture is dissipated. Colors may thus be fixed which otherwise become pale or nearly white.

Some plants require more moderate heat than others, and herein consists the nicety of the experiment; but I have generally found that if the iron be not too hot, and is passed rapidly, yet carefully, over the surface of the blotting paper, it answers the purpose equally well with plants of almost every variety of hue and thickness.

In compound flowers, with those also of a stubborn and solid form, some little care and skill are required in cutting away the under part, by which means the profile and forms of the flowers will be more distinctly exhibited. This is especially necessary when the method employed by Major Velley is adopted, viz., to fix the flowers and fruit down securely with gum upon the paper, previous to ironing, by which means they become almost incorporated with the surface. When this very delicate process is attempted, blotting paper should be laid under every part excepting the blossoms, in order to prevent staining the white paper.

Great care must be taken to keep preserved specimens in a dry place, and also to handle them gently; and thus, they can be kept a long time, affording a source of great pleasure."
posted by anastasiav at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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