By Sam Burbach, Education & Programming Coordinator – 05/07/2020

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As we get further into spring, more colors in nature are beginning to show up. From white or pink blossoms on trees, to bright yellow tulips and dandelions, to vibrant purple violets and bluebells. There are so many beautiful colors around us in nature, but how does this occur and what is the purpose?  

Many of us know that the green color of leaves is due to the pigment chlorophyll which helps capture the sun’s energy and turn it into energy for the plant through photosynthesis. This process of creating food is necessary for the survivability of the plant, making chlorophyll an especially important pigment in the plant world. So what is the purpose of reds, yellows, purples, or any other colors?  

The pigment in flowers, and some leaves, serves two main purposes – helping with plant health and helping to attract pollinators. There are two major pigments that determine plant colors and those are carotenoids and flavonoids.  

Carotenoids produce yellow, orange and red colors. Carotenoids have two main functions for the plant: 1) they help with photosynthesis by absorbing the green wavelengths of light that bounce off of any surfaces with chlorophyll, and 2) they protect the plant from photodamage by releasing excess energy in the form of heat.  

Flavonoids produce purple, blue, magenta, and also some reds. Flavonoids have many functions for the plant, but most notably, they are responsible for the colors and aromas of flowers which attract pollinators, as well as the colors and aromas of fruits which helps with seed dispersal. They can also help with UV filtration 

Not only do these pigments play important roles for the plant but they have also long been appreciated and utilized as a source of natural dye by humans. A great way to capture the pigments in flowers and leaves is to create pounded flower prints. It is rather easy to create the prints, and one of the best parts is going out to gather the flowers. Keep your eye out for spring blooms all around, from violets (the state flower of Illinois, of course) to daffodilsthis can turn into a fun color scavenger hunt for the whole family. And with Mother’s Day just around the corner, this can even make a great gift or card! 

Shoutout and thank you to our Marketing Director, Sarah, for creating this week’s beautiful flower print! 

Here’s how you can try it at home!

Here’s what you’ll need:
  • White or light-colored paper (craft, construction, cardstock)
  • Parchment paper
  • Scissors
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Small bowl to collect scraps
  • Assorted seasonal flowers and leaves (I used violets, bluebells, squills, dandelions, and
    buds from our backyard maple tree)
  • Pens, markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc…
Lay your construction paper on a flat and strong surface, like your driveway or patio. I did this activity indoors on our kitchen island, but made sure a thick sketch book was under the paper so I didn’t damage our table with the hammer.
Arrange your flowers and leaves on the construction paper.
Place a large piece of parchment paper over the flowers and leaves, being careful not to disturb your design. 
With your hammer or mallet, pound gently but firmly on each flower and leaf (I definitely got my fingers a few times, so make sure this step is completed by an adult if you are doing this activity with kids!) Be a little more gentle with the flowers, as they mush easily. You will have to be more firm with the leaves.
Once you’ve extracted all the color, peel back the parchment paper and remaining flower or leaf.
Keep adding flowers and leaves until you are pleased with the overall design.
Add your own style! Use colored pencils, crayons, and markers to add more vibrant color, and pens to outline or add embellishments. You could even use watercolor paint to mimic the soft edges of the print. Have fun with it!

A Few Notes:

  • Avoid using materials that have corrugation or a lot of texture, such as cardboard, as the surface under the paper you are printing on, as this will show up in your final print.
  • You can place a piece of parchment paper under your construction paper to avoid color bleeding through onto the surface underneath.
  • If you find that you are having trouble keeping all of your flowers and leaves in one place as you hammer, you can also do Step 4 one flower and leaf at a time and build on your design as you go.
  • Peeling the residual flowers and leaves away in Step 5 would likely be easier with a pair of tweezers, but I was able to gently scrape away any residual flower or leaf with the edge of a scrap piece of parchment paper and my fingernail.

 

Downloadable Instructions:

For a downloadable version of the full instructions, click here.