Black gum leaves begin turning deep red near the end of summer, sometimes long before any other leaves are starting to think of autumn.
This color is made from the late summer red leaves of black gum (also called black tupelo). It’s a tree native to the Ozarks and one of the few light-fast sources of plant pigments that I’ve found.
Late Summer Shades
I can actually get three different shades of color from red black gum leaves, depending on when the leaves are gathered and/or how they are treated. The green lake pigment is a very nice shade of green, but it isn’t light fast.
The two brown shades are both light fast, based on my test strips that I hang outside in full sunlight. I leave them out for at least 4 weeks and they get full afternoon direct sunlight.
The green shade was made by precipitating pigments from the water and alcohol extract with alum and calcium carbonate. I love the color, but it doesn’t hold up to the light-fast test. So far it’s doing fine indoors, though.
The center shade was made using a water and alcohol extract, and the right shade was made using only water to extract the color from the leaves.
Red Leaves of Black Gum
Making the Colors
gather the red leaves
Depending on when you gather the leaves, it may give you a slightly different shade of color.
Add to a pot of water
If you just use water, a lot of the red will remain in the leaves and not go into the water and will yield a color closer to the right hand image in the photo above.
I boiled the leaves gently. It may yield another shade to extract with alcohol and not boil it at all. I haven’t tried that yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.
Strain the water out. I use cheese cloth folded over several times.
Add solution of gum arabic. This makes a watery paint that will need to be panned several times as each layer dries. Store your paint in the refrigerator or it will mold and/or ferment. That, too, might yield a different color and is another experiment for the future. I’d leave the leaves in for that one.