Leaves: Extracting Pigments

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In this fun, hands-on autumn activity, learners experiment to discover whether the colored substances in leaves can be separated from the leaves. Learners crush leaves and other natural materials and soak them in different liquids. They then carry out the technique of chromatography to separate out the pigments for observation. The activity is broken into three parts and includes follow-up and background information. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on Archive.org.]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 or 3 metal cans (taller cans are preferable) 2 or 3 scrap pieces of wood (2–3 inches wide, 12–14 inches long)
  • 8–10 white coffee filters
  • 5 or 6 clear plastic cups (9 ounce)
  • 5 or 6 glass jars
  • 5 or 6 coffee stirrerstesting materials
  • different colored leaves collected from nearby trees
  • half a red cabbage
  • about 50 blueberries
  • about 20 red onion skins (optional)
  • about 20 yellow onion skins (optional)
  • 2 carrots (optional)
  • half a bag of spinach (optional)
  • flowers of different colors (optional)
  • glass jars for holding the liquids (e.g., a jelly jar, mayonnaise far, or pickle jar; do not use plastic because acetone can dissolve some plastics)
  • clear plastic cups (9 ounce)
  • 1 pint rubbing alcohol
  • 1 bottle acetone (e.g., nail polish remover)
  • 1 set of water-based pens having multiple colors (can be very inexpensive markers.)
  • access to water
  • access to a stove
  • 2 or 3 scrap pieces of wood (2-3 inches wide, 12-14 long)


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Food and Cooking
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, DRL‐0714703