How to: Press leaves for simple, inexpensive souvenirs
Gift shops are usually full of tacky, over-priced thing-a-ma-bobs that will add clutter to your life and your luggage. It’s difficult to find things that are meaningful, inexpensive, and easy to travel with. So where should you look for the perfect souvenirs?
While I’m abroad, I usually find myself immersed in nature somewhere, wishing I could take it home with me. Well, good news! I’ve found a way to do just that. I’ve started collecting interesting or unique leaves throughout my travels, and pressing them to make the perfect souvenir. It’s easy, it’s free, and there’s plenty of great crafts you can do once you return home.
Step 1: Finding and Collecting Leaves
Keep in mind that any flaws you see on the leaf will be just as obvious, if not more so, when it’s pressed. The better condition the leaf is in, the better the end product. Make sure that insects haven’t been making holes, and avoid leaves that are browning.
Finding perfect samples is a bit easier in the tropics where you can easily find pristine leaves on deciduous evergreens throughout the year. In temperate regions, there’s a much shorter window. I’ve always wanted to make a collage of changing leaves during a Canadian fall, but finding changing leaves that are in great condition is easier said than done.
Flat leaves are easier to press, but the type of leaf you pick depends on what you want to do with it.
A few things to remember:
In national parks or conservation areas, there’s a very good chance they prohibit damaging or taking any plant material. If you’re unsure, just ask.
If you’re going off-trail to collect specimens, make sure you give your shoes and clothes a clean after so that you’re not carrying seeds that may have attached to your attire. You don’t want to cause the spread of invasive species!
Step 2: Pressing
Leaves are relatively easy to dry, even if you forgot to pack your plant press. Simply fold it between sheets of paper or in a book, and put some weight on top of it. I always have a book with me when I travel, so it makes finding a space very easy. If you don’t have a book, you could pick up a newspaper to fold it in, and again add weight on top of it.
I have a habit of forgetting about my leaves until the next time I open the book, so I can’t say exactly how long I usually leave them for, but most leaves will be ready in 1-2 weeks.
If you’re pressing any kind of wetland species it gets a bit more difficult. Instead of a book, place the leaves in absorbent paper or newspaper with layers of cardboard separating each specimen. Add weight on top. In the first week or so, the paper will need to be changed regularly. Depending on the water content of the plant, the paper may need to be changed multiple times per day for the first few days so it doesn’t get moldy. The drying process takes longer, but the end product is the same.
Step 3: Taking it home
I’ve never heard of anyone having issues taking dried plant material home from a trip. Flying from South Africa to Canada, I had many leaves pressed in books in my checked luggage and I didn’t have any trouble.
Start the drying process as early as possible on your trip. As long as there’s no fruit, seeds, or bugs, I don’t see there being any issues. You can always double check to make sure the plant isn’t on the list of species prohibited for international travel in CITES appendices, but they are listed by scientific name. It’s unlikely that you’re going to run into the most endangered species during regular travel though.
Step 4: Preserving the Leaves
Once leaves are dried they can become thin and brittle. To ensure they’re not damaged and can be used for crafting, it’s a good idea to preserve them.
There are a few easy at home methods for preserving leaves, from laminating to painting leaves with pvc glue. Here’s one method using wax paper that I’m interested in trying:
Place the leaf between two sheets of wax paper, and sandwich between two thick pieces of paper. Iron on a high temperature, without steam. Keep the iron moving, but be careful not to shift the leaves. Be careful not to get wax on the iron! Wait until the wax has cooled to cut out the leaves, and be sure to leave a paper boarder to maintain the seal.
Leaves may fade over time, particularly yellows and reds.
Step 5: Crafts
There possibilities are endless for the creative mind, but here a few of my favourite crafting ideas.
This is one of the easiest souvenirs. Before drying the leaf, before it becomes brittle, you can write on the leaf. Here I’ve just written the country and year, but you could also write an inspirational quote, or a memory from the trip where you collected the leaf. Laminating the leaves will give it a sturdier finish.
The leaves of the Hong Kong Orchid tree, featured in this Weekly Wild, have traditionally been used as bookmarks for students to bring good luck in their studies. A great gift for your studious friends!
Travel Memory Book
What a great way to remember the places you’ve visited! Laminated leaves may be a too rigid to glue well, but waxed leaves or leaves dipped in a glycerine bath hold the original texture and flexibility better. Using a notebook or a sketchbook, glue the preserved leaf onto a page. You can make notes about where you found it, or include it as part of a travel journal.
This is my plan for all the leaves I collected in South Africa, though I have yet to actually do it. I plan on making a shadow box full of items from that trip – dried leaves, old passport pages, and money left over from the trip.
If I ever get around to collecting changing leaves in the fall, I plan on framing to create natural artwork around the home.
Other natural souvenirs:
Pressed flowers: I personally don’t collect flowers because I find they don’t turn out quite as nice as pressed leaves. They lose a lot of their colour, plus the shape can make it more difficult to press and preserve. If you’d like to collect flower, note that the colour will seep into the pages of a book, so don’t press them in your favourite novel. Flatter flowers are easier to press.
Rocks: Can be heavy to travel with, but they’re easy to find and there’s not preservation needed. Collecting small stones from abroad, writing the location on them, and making a rock garden could be a neat way to bring a little bit of the world home with you.
Do you have any DIY natural souvenir ideas? Let me know in the comments below!