Over the past few summers, we’ve been working to create our very own herbarium. This isn’t just a fun activity that yields an aesthetic result, but it’s also creating a useful resource for the future. We will use our herbarium collection as an outreach and teaching tool, making it possible to show people what different invasive species look like with real-life examples. Creating your own herbarium can be a great way to connect with your local ecosystems – more on how to get started below!
An herbarium is most easily described as a library for dried plants. The plants are pressed, preserved and organized into collections, making them easy to reference later. Herbariums range from small, personal collections to massive collections at institutions, like the University of British Columbia Herbarium (with over 200,000 dried plants) or the National Herbarium of Canada (with over 650,000 dried plants!).
To be integrated into a collection, the plants are dried, glued or taped to a piece of special paper, and a label is usually added to the paper with some information about the specimen. Typically, this information includes the plant’s scientific name, the collector’s name, and the date & location where it was collected.
We like to think of herbariums as time capsules: they help us to understand the changes in different plant species over time. For instance, if a certain species has been collected from the same area multiple times over the last two centuries, comparing older and newer specimens can show what changes the plant has undergone to adapt to its environment during that period. This kind of information is essential to plant biologists and is very helpful for researchers studying the effects of climate change, for example.
SSISC’s herbarium contains some invasive species commonly found in the Sea to Sky. As we continue to collect and press more plants over the years, our herbarium will grow larger! We plan on using this resource to display a wide range of examples of invasive species found within the Sea to Sky region.
A nature lover’s collection
Small personal herbariums can act as a way to keep track of the plants that grow in your local environment. Identifying the plants you collect is also a great way to improve your plant identification skills. As a bonus, dried plants are really pretty!
Using iNaturalist to make a report of your observation can be a great way to make your collection available to researchers, as well. The iNaturalist network allows researchers from around the world to easily use your observations to better understand the distribution of a plant species. If you decide to collect samples of invasive species, adding them to your iNaturalist observations will also help us build on our understanding of the current distribution of these species within the Sea to Sky.
Also remember to dispose of unwanted invasive plant parts in the garbage, not the compost in order to prevent accidentally increasing the invasive’s spread.
Interested in making your own herbarium?
Making your own herbarium is a fairly easy project that leaves you with a nice collection displaying some of your local biodiversity. Other than time and patience, only a few simple tools are needed to start:
- Tools to collect the whole plant if it’s small enough, or cuttings of plants (e.g., gardening gloves, trowel, pruners/scissors)
- Some sort of plant press (more on that in a second)
- Paper, glue, and other supplies to mount dried plants on paper
- A way to organize and store your collection
The tools used to collect plants can vary greatly depending on the species and its environment. These tools can range from small shovels or trowels to gardening shears or kitchen scissors. Bringing a notebook and camera out collecting with you will also help you keep track of details about each plant you collect.
To collect the plants you wish to press, choose a portion of a healthy plant that will fit onto the piece of paper you’ll use to mount your specimen on. Try to find a portion of a plant that represents the species well – try to get multiple average-sized leaves, any flowers or fruits if present, and any other important identification characteristics of the plant. Remove all of the dirt from the plant before pressing.
To press your plants, a plant press can be used. Researchers may use fancy plant presses, but thick phone books (remember those?) or textbooks work (almost) just as well! At SSISC, we use two small pieces of plywood that are tightened using a strap. Arrange your specimens between sheets of newspaper. (Newspaper works well because it absorbs the moisture from the plant specimens, and the plants won’t stick to it as they dry as much as they would to regular paper.)
Ensure that the plant is laid out nicely and that you can see both the tops and bottoms of the leaves and flowers. Layer pieces of cardboard between specimens to increase air flow, and apply pressure for 24 hours. After the first day, inspect your specimens and make any adjustments to their arrangement needed (this is the last time the plants will be pliable enough!), and replace the damp newspapers with fresh ones to prevent mould from developing on the plants.
Interested in a book with more info? Pressed Plants: Making a Herbarium by Linda Jennings Lipsen, the Curator of the UBC Herbarium, includes everything you need to know about the process of creating a herbarium and collecting and drying plants.
Depending on the type of plant, they can take anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks to dry completely. Store the press in a warm place, such as above the refrigerator, and check on the plants often, at least once a week. Once completely dried, you can mount the plants on (preferably) acid-free paper to preserve the plants for longer.
To mount the plants, use a thin layer of white glue or thin strips of tape. Professional herbariums use pH-neutral adhesive or gummed linen hanging tape, which aren’t necessary for personal collections.
Write up a label for the specimen and place it in the bottom right corner of the paper. The label may include information such as:
- the scientific and/or common name of the plant,
- the location and date it was collected,
- the collector,
- the name of the person who identified the specimen (if different),
- any habitat notes, and
- a collection number, if desired (a number that a collector gives a specimen to be able to reference it and keep track of their collections easily)
Organizing your herbarium
You can choose to organize your herbarium in any way you wish. Many professional herbariums choose to organize the specimens first by the plant Family, then by their Genus, then by their species name, and finally by collection location or collection date. This makes it very easy to find specific specimens within their massive collections. This level of organization isn’t as necessary in smaller collections, so feel free to organize your herbarium as you wish.
Freezing the mounted, preserved specimens for 72 hours will kill any pests you may have inadvertently collected as well, and keep the pressed plants in good condition longer. However, this step is not absolutely necessary. Mounted plants are typically stored in a cabinet or case to keep away the pests. Happy collecting!