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Q: Skeletonizing / Etching leaves ( No Answer,   1 Comment )
Subject: Skeletonizing / Etching leaves
Category: Science > Earth Sciences
Asked by: robbycoats-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 08 Jun 2005 15:49 PDT
Expires: 08 Jul 2005 15:49 PDT
Question ID: 531093
I need to know how to "skeletonize" leaves, whereby completely
removing the plant matter, and leaving only the stem and vein
structure.  I have read about, and tried, several methods involving
lye (or washing soda), and then boiling the leaves in the water/lye
mixture.  After boiled, the flesh of the leaf must be rubbed, or
scraped off... this is extremely hard to do, and I know there must be
a better method.  Every time I have tried this, no matter how lightly
I rub or scrape, the intricate vein structure is irreparably damaged;
completely torn apart in most cases.  I have tried varying the amount
of time the leaves spend in the boiling mixture, but nothing seems to

I have heard of methods involving electrical etching, and techniques
similar to that used in semiconductor manufacturing, but I cannot, for
the life of me, find any ?how to? information.  What I want is a step
by step guide for this process.  Any help would be greatly

Request for Question Clarification by tlspiegel-ga on 08 Jun 2005 17:18 PDT
Hi robbycoats,

I performed an extensive search for "how to" methods involving
electrical etching, and techniques similar to that used in
semiconductor manufacturing, and I also was unsuccesful.

However, I have found various sources on how to make a leaf skeleton. 
Please clarify if my findings are satisfactory for you and I will
close (answer) your question if this is suitable.


Leaf Skeletons

Old hairbrush or shoebrush with animal bristles, pounding board made
from carpet attached to wood, clear plastic wrap

1.  Put a leaf on the board, top side up, hold it firmly in place with
one hand, and tap gently until all the fleshiness is worn away,
leaving only the skeleton of veins.
2.  Turn the leaf over and tap on the underside occasionally. This
will take at least 10 minutes.
3.  Place the leaf skeleton between pieces of plastic wrap. 


See photos of how to at the following site:

Materials Required:
Fallen leaf or leaves (Try Rubber, Rain Tree, Angsana, Durian or Cocoa leaves)
Ribbon (about 25cm)
Transparent plastic bag (You can make your own from transparent
plastic wrapper. Seal three sides with glue or tape, leaving one side
unsealed for inserting the leaf)
Permanent ink marker
Small basin
paper towels
Food colouring
Paper punch
Stiff paint brush
Household bleach

Clean the leaf thoroughly to remove dirt. Soak it in a strong solution
of bleach till it turns white. Caution: Strong household bleach is
corrosive. Please avoid direct contact with your fingers or skin.
Rinse the leaf and gently remove the soft tissue with a paint brush.
(see more information that doesn't apply to the answer but may be of
interest to you...)


Leaf Skeletons

Parents help required with boiling water 


Leaves that are in good condition (the larger the variety, the better) 
Boiling water 
Colored construction paper 
Paint (optional) 
Clear contact paper (optional) 

1.  Heat a saucepan of water. When it is close to boiling, add the leaves. 
2.  Simmer the leaves until the leafy part starts to come away from
the veins of the leaves (approximately one hour)
3.  Carefully remove the leaves from the water with a strainer and lay
them flat to cool.
4.  Using the brush, gently brush away the leafy parts from the veins
of the leaves.
5.  Place the leaf skeletons into water with approximately one
teaspoon of bleach. Let sit for an hour.
6.  Remove them from the bleach and water mixture and rinse them
gently under cold water. Let dry.
7.  Place on coloured paper. Cover with clear contact paper. 
8.  If you would rather paint the leaf skeletons, omit the bleaching process. 


RE: skeletonizing leaves

"... If you've had lots of rain there recently like we've had, check
under the Magnolia trees...I found several leaves yesterday almost
skeletonized by Mother Nature. Also a few Oak leaves. Just needed a
little rubbing as I washed them.
Also, I ran across a method in Penny Black's book "A Passion for
Flowers". I've never tried it but she's a real professional and uses a
lot of skeletonized leaves in her published work, so I'd think it
worth a try if I weren't scared of pressure cookers...LOL Anyway, her
method is:

"Green Magnolia leaves can be gathered from tree and skeletonized by
pressure-cooking them in about 1-1/2 inches of water, to which has
been added 1 teaspoon of soda crystals, for about 12 minutes. If leaf
tissue can not be brushed away, may need additional 5 to 10 minutes
cooking time".

Do you know what she means by "soda crystals"? Someone told me it was
Borax...but I'm not sure. As I said, I've NOT tried this, just
offering for info. If you (or anyone here) tries it, would you please
report back to the rest of us scaredy cats?"

"I would assume that "soda crystals" means washing soda, the material used..."


from Mary Clements of Tom Thumb Workshops,

FIRST SELECT LEAVES with a heavy vein pattern. Some good ones to start
with are holly, magnolia, ivy, maple, oak, beech, and crab apple.
Don't forget weeds with good vein patterns. Just remember to
experiment with the leaves before you need them for a project. Always
use a glass pot for cooking the leaves, or glass bowls if you decide
to soak them. All the chemicals listed in the recipes below will
interact with metals and either damage the metal container or cause a
chemical reaction you were not anticipating.

Always wear rubber gloves when working with these chemicals and work
in a well-ventilated room.


1 quart water 
2 tablespoons lye 

glass pot large enough to hold the above plus leaves 
Place the water into the pot, then carefully add the lye. It may
bubble up or release an odor, so don't have your face near the pot.
Add the leaves. Place over low heat until the water starts to bubble.
Simmer for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of leaves. Remove
the leaves and rinse in cold water. When all the lye is rinsed from
the leaves, spread them onto waxed paper. Gently scrape the loose
flesh from the leaves using the edge of a spoon or a dull table knife.

If you want to bleach the leaves, mix 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 quart
water. Soak the leaves for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the desired
effect. Rinse leaves again, and place flat on paper towels to dry.

To color the leaves, add food coloring to rubbing alcohol and soak the
cleaned leaves in the solution. You can also spray-paint the leaves.

Same as method 1, except substitute 1 teaspoon washing soda for the lye. 

Mix about 2/3 cup washing soda in 2 to 3 quarts of water in a glass or
plastic bowl. Add the leaves and cover. Place the bowl in a sunny
location for 2 to 5 weeks. Rinse the leaves and scrape as above.



When Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire, it was popular to make
"phantom bouquets" from skeleton-like leaves. Making skeletonized
leaves is a great way to see how leaves get the water they need to
grow. Mature maple or oak leaves work especially well. It's an eerie
experiment and it requires patience, but if your child likes being a
mad scientist in the kitchen, this is a fun way to see a leaf's

Combine four cups water and one teaspoon washing soda in a stainless
steel or enamel pot. Add a fresh, mature leaf. Bring to a boil and
simmer for thirty minutes, then let the water cool. Lay the leaf flat
on newspaper and, using the dull knife, slowly scrape away the fleshy
surface from both sides of the leaf, leaving the veins. If your child
works carefully, what remains is a beautiful, but spooky-looking, leaf
and you can see how intricate a leaf really is. Trees drink water



Use a skeleton leaf to make a pattern on your card. You may purchase
leaves at a craft store or create your own by soaking them in a
solution of 2 parts bleach to 1 part water.
1. The best time to bleach/skeletonize leaves is when they are green. 
2. Sponge over the leaf with ink to make a copy of it on the card


MadSci Network: Botany

How can my students skeletonize leaves to study venation?

The best way to see leaf venation is to simply clear the leaf material
until it is transparent. This is easily done:

Place leaves, a couple at a time, in a large beaker with ethanol (at
least 70% ethanol) and bring to a boil. Allow the leaves to boil until
they become pale or clear. The chlorophyll dissolves in the ethanol,
so the ethanol in the beaker will turn green. Different types of
leaves will take different lengths of time to clear. A half hour might
do the trick. Rememember not to let the leaves boil dry - more ethanol
can be added to replace the volume boiled off. After the leaves are
pale/clear, place them in a warm (56 C) solution of 5-10% NaOH. They
may then be removed, rinsed with water and studied!

Admin note: As always, be certain to follow appropriate lab safety
procedures when handling solutions of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or
boiling flammable liquids such as 70% ethanol.


MadSci Network: Botany

Mainly just the leaf veins are left after skeletonization because the xylem 
vessels and tracheids in the veins have thick secondary walls containing a 
decay-resistant chemical called lignin. The vessel and tracheid cell walls are 
more resistant to chemicals and decay than the primary cell walls in the rest 
of the leaf. The cells that are lost during skeletonization are mainly thin-
walled parenchyma cells in the mesophyll, also termed chlorenchyma, plus the 
epidermal cells. Many insects skeletonize leaves because they just eat the 
nutritious thin-walled cells and not the veins. 

Skeletonizing leaves is often done to make artwork and jewelry. Skeletonization 
methods may use chemicals or microbes. With some leaves you can soak the leaf 
until the cells soften and then gently scrape away the mesophyll cells with a 


I've heard that you can skeletonized leaves through natural decay.


Best regards,

Clarification of Question by robbycoats-ga on 09 Jun 2005 10:32 PDT
Thanks for the help, tlspiegel, but these are all processes which I
have tried myself, and none of them seem to produce the results that I
am looking for.  I might be able to offer you some more information to
search for, however.  If you search Google for "leaf lines," you
should come across several art galleries displaying
etched/skeletonized leaves.  Please take a look at these photos; this
is the kind of detail and precision that I need.  I already know how
to achieve the desired colors, but I am missing the exact etching
process.  I fear that it might be an undiscoverable ?trade secret.?

Request for Question Clarification by tlspiegel-ga on 09 Jun 2005 11:03 PDT
Hi robbycoats,

Thank you for your clarification.  My original search involved many
art galleries displaying etched/skeletonized leaves.  I did see the
photos.  They are beautiful indeed.  But - there was no information
that I could find on how the etching process is done.  My keyword
search was quite extensive and I did search for leaf lines, in
addition to many other keywords.

Perhaps another researcher will have better luck.

Best regards,
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Skeletonizing / Etching leaves
From: bando-ga on 18 Jul 2005 16:46 PDT
Its called plasma etching.


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