At this time of year, many children find it hard to resist collecting colorful leaves and the season’s last flowers when they walk in the woods or parks. Drying and pressing these treasures is a good way to preserve memories and learn some earth science along the way.
Remind your kids only to collect windfall – it’s never a good idea to pick foliage. In most parks it’s illegal and so reinforcing the rules teaches youngsters to respect the natural spendor of Mother Nature.
If you have a garden, you and the kids can make the rules. It’s fun to plan a backyard foraging trip!
Different flowers respond better than others to preserving. Part of the fun is to experiment with various techniques and blooms.
Collecting Leaves and Flowers
As you and the children walk along a wooded path, keep an eye out for plants. If the woodland yields to a meadow, remark on the change in plant life.
Carry a backpack packed small with rigid containers or sturdy envelopes. These are good for transporting your finds without crushing them. Before you stow them in their containers, make sure they are bug-free.
Bring a book to help identify the leaves or flowers. Slip a piece of paper with the identification on it into the container. Encourage young botanists to sketch the leaf or flower in a notebook for easy identification next time.
You can also wait to identify the flowers and leaves until you get home, although it’s rewarding to link a maple leaf with the actual maple tree, for example.
Drying Leaves and Flowers
When a plant dries, its natural moisture evaporates. This may change its appearance significantly, leaving behind a shriveled, brown shell, or it may leave behind an attractive representation of the original.
One way to dry flowers or leafy plants like herbs is to tie their stems in small bundles and hang them upside down in a dark, dry place. A cupboard or out-of –the-way closet is a good choice. In the old days, bundles of drying plants hung among attic rafters.
Another method is to lay the plants on an elevated screen so that air circulates all around them. Be sure to leave ample room between specimens and dry everything in a single layer. Set the screen in a dark, dry place – or at the very least someplace that is out of direct sunlight.
You can buy commercial drying agents called desiccants, which absorb moisture. Spread the desiccant in a cardboard box large enough to hold the leaves and flowers in a single layer with space between them. After you position the plants, top with another layer of desiccant. Put a lid on the box until the plants dry.
Pressing Leaves and Flowers
Pressing leaves and flowers is a good way to prepare them for crafts and art projects. Lay the flowers or leaves on a paper towel, cover them with another towel and then stack two or three heavy books on top. Check the leaves after a few days.
To protect the book, lay the paper towels between sheets of wax paper.
Use the pressed flowers and leaves to decorate homemade stationery, gift tags, and placecards.
Arrange them on a piece of construction paper. Press them between two sheets of clear contact paper and then fashion bookmarks or placemats.
Work the dried plants into art projects – to make two-dimensional pictures or to illustrate a book of poetry or photographs.