Schoolyard Floras

Project Managers: Herrick Brown, Chanda Cooper

Overview

Collecting and preserving plant specimens is an important aspect of botany. A specimen—typically a dried, pressed plant—serves as a permanent record of the appearance of an individual plant; documents when, where, and the conditions under which a plant occurs in nature; provides plant material for researchers to study at any time of the year; and can be cited as a reference in publications. If properly curated (protected from moisture and insect damage), these specimens can last hundreds of years. A collection of pressed, preserved specimens is called a herbarium.
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Equipment

Plant press configuration
source

  • Plant press(es), 12" x 18"
    • Field presses may be made from cardboard and tape
  • Adjustable straps
  • Newspaper
  • Ventilators (cardboard sheets, 12" x 18")
  • Felt blotters (newspaper can be substituted)
  • Permanent marker
  • Field notebook
  • Writing instrument (preferably something that won't smudge if/when wet)
  • Hand shears
  • Acid-free mounting paper (standard herbarium size is 12" x 18")
  • Acid-free glue
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Field Collecting

In the field, you will need a field press, straps, newspaper, cardboard (optional), hand shears, a field book, and a pen or pencil. Typically, only plants which are flowering or fruiting are added to an herbarium, although sterile material may be collected if necessary or desired. Collect as much of the plant as possible, including roots, stems, leaves, and especially flowers or fruits. If the plant is small, pull it up by its roots. Next, arrange the plant in a folded piece of newspaper (you may need to bend a long plant into an "N" shape or trim a large specimen down to size). Remember that the plant will eventually have to fit onto a 12" x 18" paper. Number the newspaper sheets as you go, and write the corresponding number in your field book along with notes about the plant's location, habitat, and appearance. Most botanists maintain the same numbering system through out their life, so your very first plant will be your only specimen #1, and after a few years, you may have thousands of specimens.
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Drying

As soon as possible after returning from the field (and certainly no more than two days later, as your plants will begin to mold), prepare your specimens for drying. Transfer your plant specimens into fresh, dry pieces of newspaper and carefully arrange the leaves, flowers, and stems as you want them to appear when they are dry. Be sure that some leaves are right-side-up and others are wrong-side-up so that both sides will be visible when the plant is glued down. Write the specimen number on the newspaper. Stack the specimens in a plant press according to the following arrangement: plant press base, cardboard, blotter or extra newspaper to absorb moisture, plant specimen, (another blotter or more newspaper if the plant is fleshy or damp), cardboard, repeat. Once all specimens are stacked in the press, slide the straps over the ends and pull them as tight as possible. Kneeling on the press or having a friend stand on it while you pull the straps may be helpful. Ideally, the press should then be placed in a low-heat drying oven (some ideas for making your own drying oven are available on the Missouri Botanical Garden website). However, botanists have successfully created herbarium specimens for centuries without the aid of drying ovens. Keep the press in a warm, dry location (a car parked in the sun, for example) and change the newspapers if they feel damp to avoid mold.
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Creating Herbarium Specimens

Example specimen label

Once the plants are completely dry (a matter of days for small, thin plants and weeks for thick, watery plants), they are ready to be labeled and mounted. A label should contain, at minimum, the collector's name, the specimen number, the date the plant was collected, its scientific name (if known), family name (if known), and information about the plant's location, habitat, and appearance. The more information you include, the more useful the specimen will be to future researchers. Use acid-free paper to print your labels; otherwise, they will eventually disintegrate and cause consternation for the curators of your herbarium. The last step is mounting the specimens and their labels on herbarium paper. Dots of acid-free liquid glue are usually sufficient to hold a plant in place. Traditionally, labels are affixed to the lower right-hand corner. Separate specimens with wax paper and cardboard so they will not stick to each other and will dry flat.
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Curation

Congratulations! You now have your own herbarium. Store your specimens in a dry location and protect them from insects. Many large herbaria, such as the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, will be interested in adding some of your specimens to their collections for research and reference.
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This site was developed in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Heritage Trust Program and the A. C. Moore Herbarium
and is hosted by the University of South Carolina Department of Biological Sciences.
Please direct all inquiries to the site administrator
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
South Carolina Heritage Trust Program
A. C. Moore Herbarium