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The Craft

Birch Seed Leaves

by Daniel Joyce
aka Crusoe the Painter

H&A sells 2 kinds of leaf litter. One made from punched out colored paper, the other is from some sort of plant with leaf-shaped parts that are small enough to be used for model leaf litter. I knew I'd seen the plant as a kid growing up in Missouri, but I couldn't recall what it was.

Someone was trying to locate a seller of H&A leaf litter on another forum, and another person chimed in with "It's just birch tree seeds!".

Gadzooks! That's what it was. But where to find birches here? Walking to the store today, I finally noticed some birch trees around an apartment complex I've walked by many times before. I guess this time I had reason to notice them!


I picked some of the seed pods off the tree, twisted them between my fingers, and voila, I found 'leaves'.


What you're really after is the separators between the birch seeds, not the seeds themselves. Pick the seed bodies while somewhat green. Once ripe, they become papery, and contain just the seeds, the leaf-like separators have all fallen out.

The seeds are very light and papery, and kinda look like little bugs, with a small seed located between two translucent 'wings'.

Here's how to separate the 'leaves' from the seeds:


Take a seed pod, and grip each end with 2 fingers, and twist, this will start to break them up. Then roll gently between the fingers to loosen up all the seeds. They should fall off with gentle pressure. Throw away the stems.

Take the separated seeds and 'leaves', spread them out on a baking sheet, and toast gently in the oven at 250 F for 15 minutes to dry them out. They'll be a little sappy/sticky otherwise. This will cause them to brown, dry out, and curl slightly.

If you want flatter leaves, bake the whole seed pods before flaking off the leaves.


Once dry, pour them onto a large flat plate or similar surface and take them outside. It helps if there is a gentle breeze going. Take a mound of the seeds between the fingers, and sprinkle back down onto the platter. Ideally, the heavier 'leaf' pieces will fall pretty much straight down, while the birch seeds get caught on the breeze and are blown away. After a while, you should be left with pretty pure leaves. The picture is just a closeup of a few leaves, you'll have more than this when done.

The leaves themselves can be glued to terrain as leaf litter, to lines of glue as ivy, etc. The natural color of the seeds is a brown with flecks of green, so they are perfect for freshly fallen leaves. Of course, once glued down, they can be painted any color required.


Here, I've taken some Hirst Arts blocks and glued them together to make a 'wall' which is then glued to a piece of card stock. I like to use Aleene's Tacky Glue for this. The wall was painted with some heavy washes of dark brown, and then dry brushed with 'stone' colors. The base was flocked with Dept 56 static grass. The 'leaves' were glued on as ivy, and painted with acrylic paint to make them green. They're a little brittle, so painting a thin layer of matte Modge Podge over the top should strengthen them.

Now, here's how to color them, so you can have fresh spring leaves, to fall colored leaves, to weird alien leaves.


You'll need a small container with a tight sealing lid. A old margarine container works well. You'll also need an acrylic paint color, and some of the dried leaves you made previously. I'm using Delta Ceramcoat "Forest Green" as the paint color for this tutorial.


Put a small mount of leaves into the margarine tub, and add a few drops of paint directly to leaves. Do not add the paint to the tub bottom, the leaves will merely get stuck to the bottom, and not spread the paint around. Do not add too much paint, the leaves will be too wet, and get glued together as the paint dries, making them difficult to separate. You want only enough paint to cover the leaves evenly.


Put the lid on, and make sure it is secure. Ideally, you'll shake this thing someplace where it won't matter if the lid flies off and little leaves wet with paint get scattered about. I'd suggest the patio, the garage, or outside. The living room is probably a very bad idea. Shake the heck out of the container for a minute or two.


Take the lid off and examine your handiwork. Are the leaves evenly coated with paint? Are they getting stuck to the bottom of the container in clumps? If they're getting stuck, scrape them up with your finger. If the leaves seem to be clumping more than spreading the paint around, add a few drops of water. Not too much. Else you get a paint soup that will not cover the leaves.


If the leaves need more color, get them together in a clump, and add a few more drops of paint right on top of the leaves. Keep doing these steps till the leaves are evenly colored: shaking, checking coverage, adding paint.


Once everything is well covered, spread the leaves out thinly on a smooth surface to dry. If you used the right amount of paint, the leaves should separate easily once dry.

In the final photo, I have Forest Green leaves next to some Leaf Green leaves I had colored earlier.

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