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Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Friday, September 30, 2016 10:16 AM | Deleted user

Adapted from How Wee Learn.  

A simple science experiment to explain why leaves change color in Autumn!


  1. 3 leaves (from the same tree)
  2. Rubbing alcohol
  3. Jar
  4. Plastic baggie or plastic wrap
  5. Hot water
  6. Paper coffee filter
  7. Small bowl or pan
  • Have your child break the leaves into tiny pieces and put in the jar.
  • Pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves until they are just covered.
  • Mash and stir the leaves into the rubbing alcohol until the alcohol turns slightly green.  Really give it a good mashing.  This is key!
  • Cover the jar with the baggie or plastic wrap and place the jar in a small bowl and pour hot water into the bowl.  
  • Leave the jar in the water for 30 minutes, swishing the jar occasionally to stair the leaves a bit.  The alcohol should be very dark green (leave longer if needed).  If you can resist, wait even 45 minutes or an hour.  
  • Cut a strip in the coffee filter so that the strip can reach the rubbing alcohol.  Place it in the jar so that it is standing up and only part of it is in the alcohol.
  • The liquid will travel up the coffee filter and the colors will separate as the alcohol evaporates off the coffee filter.  Let this happen for about an hour for the full effect.  


In this science experiment we used the rubbing alcohol and energy (hot water) to separate the colours.  You likely saw green, and depending on your leaf type, maybe red, yellow, or orange.  As we know, Chlorophyll gives leaves their green colour and is so dominant it hides the other colours in the leaves.  But in the fall, chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down allowing the other colours to finally shine through and show their beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges.

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