Rainbow leaves and growing old gloriously

Last weekend, as we were driving along the A14 to a university open day, it was quite startling to see how many trees are already colouring up for autumn in spite of the indian summer we have been having of late. The nights have been cool, but I didn’t think that they had been nearly cold enough to cause the really bright tones we were seeing. Well, maybe that is just Kettering for you!


Sycamore leaves collected on the daily dog walk

The autumn leaf colours are looking fantastic, so I am linking with Gillian at Country Garden UK who hosts a weekly ‘Looking Good’ meme. You will find a selection of eye-catching plants, colours and wildlife chosen by other bloggers featured there.

In fact, our recent sunny, dry weather is helping the ruby tints to appear. In summer the green of chlorophyll dominates leaf colour, but with autumn’s lower levels of sunlight, less chlorophyll is produced and other pigments get a chance to shine, particularly carotene (a yellow pigment). Then, as trees prepare to shed their leaves for winter, a layer of cells forms across the base of the leaf stalk and this limits the movement of sugars back into the body of the tree. The concentrated sugars in the leaves react with proteins in the cell sap to produce anthocyanin (a purple/red pigment). Importantly, the amount of anthocyanin produced is increased by sunlight, drought and temperatures staying above freezing. So we have ideal conditions now.


Cherries are showing their brilliant colours in the golden sunlight

Certain species of tree all over the place seem to be putting on dramatic airs (even if the night-time temperatures aren’t terribly cold) as they decide that it is time to shut down for this year.

Trees and shrubs are currently turning stunning colours in the UK include: Sycamores, flowering cherries, Persian Ironwood and Virginia Creeper.

red leaves

This Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) ‘mountain’ is glowing red and already dropping leaves.

I am addicted to collecting and arranging the fallen leaves in different patterns.

Autumn colours

More sycamore leaves, with some flame-like persian ironwood in the center.

I’d dearly love to be able to keep them this bright and colourful forever. I’ve tried pressing, drying and preserving in the past, but my favourite experiment so far is :- papier-mâché.

It turns out to be possible to make thin translucent bowls from torn white tissue paper and diluted pva glue. You build up two or three layers of paper on a greased (or cling-filmed) mold, then paste some beautiful leaves into the next layer, followed by a couple more layers of tissue. An irregular edge adds to the appearance I think. When the whole thing dries, you can remove the mold and you have a delicate, ethereal bowl which shows off the red and golden leaves to great effect for many years.


Here is one that I made three or four years ago, catching the late afternoon sunlight and you can see that the acer leaves are still going strong. The bowls work effectively with tea-lights too.

Do you have a favourite way to immortalize autumn’s colours?



About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Crafts, Nature, Trees, Whimsy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Rainbow leaves and growing old gloriously

  1. Julie says:

    What an inspiring post, I love the creative use of paper mache, your bowl is quite lovely. I think Kettering is further on than us! There is still an awful lot of green here.

    • Honestly I was surprised on the drive too and the colour was only in patches, but I also drove to Kent this week and it is obvious that some species are jumping into their fiery glory. Papier-mâché is so adaptable: We have a scarecrow festival here every two years and it is amazing what people can build with it!

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Love your leaf collages and that bowl is brilliant! What a great idea. As kids we pressed leaves between wax paper with an iron, but they didn’t hold their color. I’ve heard some people use glycerine to preserve them, but I’ve never tried it.

  3. nexi says:

    … This is lovely; I’ve seen copper beach leaves preserved with glycerine – they held their flexibility – and ice bowls with leaves inserted.

    • I can imagine the copper beech branches looked splendid. Maybe I will try to get hold of some glycerine to have a go. Ice bowls are a nice idea. I’ve only seen ice bowls with summer flowers, but leaves would look bright and really show off their colours.

  4. What a clever way to preserve autumn colour, the bowl looks very attractive with its rough edges. Thanks too for your clear and concise explanation of how changes in leaf colour come about, it’s amazing that these pigments are there all time. I’ve noticed that a stressed hydrangea turned reddish purple this year … not such a cheery sight. Your leaf arrangement made me smile, I often doodle with fir cones!

    • Purple colours in stressed plants are usually an indicator of nutrient deficiency, most commonly phosphorus (sometimes magnesium), but the actual colour is probably due to the same anthocyanin pigment. I love fir cones too. I can’t help but pick them up.

  5. Pingback: Looking Good 2nd October | Country Garden UK

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s