By Sam Burbach, Education & Programming Coordinator – 10/22/2020

The cool, crisp fall air is here to stay, and signs of autumn are all around us. The landscape is changing daily as trees are changing colors and dropping their leaves. Leaves that have fallen to the ground can be viewed in many lights – a pain to rake up or clean out of the gutters, fun for kids to pile up and jump in, a great source of free mulch to utilize in your garden, and even a beautiful supply for fall crafts.

A fun activity for kids to do while you are raking the leaves or out for a walk is to collect leaves of different shapes and sizes to create a leaf rubbing. This is a fun and easy craft that could make a great fall decoration or card to send to a loved one. Younger kids might not beLEAF their eyes as they watch the leaves magically appear on the paper and older kids can use this activity to learn more about leaf characteristics. For a short lesson about leaf characteristics, click here

Here’s what you’ll need:
  • Leaves
  • Paper
  • Crayons with the paper peeled off

How to Create a Leaf Rubbing:

  1. Collect leaves that have fallen off trees while out on a walk or raking up leaves in the yard. The leaves should be relatively fresh and not dried out yet. Try to find different shape and size leaves.
  2. Arrange leaves on a table in a small enough area to fit under a piece of paper. (Make sure leaves do not have any moisture on them or they will ruin your paper)
    • TIP: Place leaves with the underside facing up to get better vein impressions!
  3. Place a piece of paper on top of the leaves.
  4. Place a crayon with the paper removed on its side and begin to rub it on the paper. The shapes and veins of the leaves will magically begin to appear!
    • TIP: If the leaves seem to move too much, you can place one leaf at a time under the paper, so it is easier to hold each leaf in place.
  5. That’s all there is to it! Cut your paper to fit into a frame for some nice fall home décor, use larger pieces of paper to create festive placemats, cut the paper down to size to create a fall greeting card – the possibilities are endless!

Leaf Characteristics Lesson

Leaves come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Studying leaves for their various characteristics helps with plant identification as well as understanding how plants are grouped into families. The science of naming, defining, and classifying organisms into related groups is known as taxonomy. In botany (the study of plants), taxonomists look at many different traits of plants, including their leaves, to determine what plants are related to each other. The most common characteristic used for tree identification is the leaves.

Leaves have many different characteristics that make them unique. Let’s look deeper at six major categories of leaf characteristics. Download this leaf characteristic worksheet to follow along with (provided by KidsGardening.org).

  1. Leaf type or category
    • Needle-like leaves – these leaves are typical of many evergreen trees
    • Scaly leaves – these leaves overlap each other like scales on a fish, and are also found on evergreens
    • Broadleaf or flat leaves – these leaves are flat and will be what we find falling from trees in the fall**The rest of the characteristics we are going to talk about will be in relation to broadleaves.
  2. Leaf Structure
    • Simple leaf: each leaf is made up of a single blade attached to the stem
    • Compound leaf: each leaf is made up of smaller blades (leaflets), which then has one point of attachment to the stem
  3. Leaf Arrangement
    • Opposite: Leaves are attached to the stem directly across from each other
    • Alternate: Leaves are attached to the stem in alternating positions
    • Whorled: Three or more leaves are attached to the stem at approximately the same place
  4. Leaf Shapes
    • Elliptical: oval with a short or no point
    • Oval: oval-shaped
    • Oblong: elongated shape with slightly parallel sides
    • Ovate: oval to egg-shaped with a tapering point and the widest portion near the base of the leaf
    • Linear: long and very narrow
    • Lanceolate: long and wider near the middle
    • Deltoid: triangular-shaped
    • Cordate: heart-shaped
  5. Leaf Margin
    • Entire: smooth edge
    • Toothed: serrations (pointed or rounded notches) along edge
    • Lobed: deep indentations from the edge in towards the center vein, but not reaching the center
  6. Leaf Venation
    • Palmate: veins originate from a common spot at the base of the leaf
    • Pinnate: one central vein runs down the middle with more veins spread out along the sides of the central vein
    • Parallel: veins run parallel to each other

Closely looking at leaf characteristics is one of the ways to help identify trees. When collecting leaves, notice the type of leaf you are collecting, the structure of the leaf, and figure out the leaf’s shape, margin, and venation. After doing a leaf rubbing, label the characteristics of each leaf. As you become more familiar with leaf characteristic terminology, you can begin looking at other tree characteristics, such as buds, stems, flowers, and fruits, and use field guides to try and identify different types of trees while you are out walking.


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