Friday, June 2, 2017

Herbarium: Part Two; and Practical Advice on Starting Your Own Herbarium

It is spring again, and I am an inspired to work more on my ongoing herbarium project. I have a lot of pressed plants that have been waiting for me patiently while pressed between the pages of books. But now that the blooms are in full radiance, I am collecting more flowers also. Yesterday I plucked Blue Bell and Scotch Bonnet and pressed it between the pages of the mystery book I am reading. Once I got home I transferred it to one of the old thrift store books I use for the very purpose of flower pressing. Once they've had a chance to flatten and dry, I'll add those to my herbarium also. For now, I've got an addition of coastal wood fern, sweet alyssum, hawthorn, mustard and red clover. Look here for my other specimens from my herbarium: Herbarium Part One.

Having a herbarium is a fun project because not only does it encourage you to embrace and appreciate the nature around you, but you also get to be creative. If you want to start your own herbarium, here is a simple guide.

Be prepared: Collecting plants for your herbarium is an ongoing process and you won't find all your plants on one day. It is more fun this way because your brain gets trained to look out for interesting plants on your day to day journeys. In order to be prepared, travel with the proper tools: a small pair of scissors and a book for pressing. If you are not prepared, you can use your hands to pick a plant, but sometimes you may come across a specimen that is more difficult to pluck with out scissors, which can lead to you tearing off more of the plant than you need. If you are a reader anyway, you can always press your plants between the pages of the book you are reading as to not burden your back with an extra book.

Plant collection: While collecting plants for your herbarium, you should be respectful to both nature and your neighbors. In Seattle, there are a lot of people with beautiful gardens and I would love nothing more than to wander into their garden and pluck every pretty bloom I see, but this would be very disrespectful to all the hard work they have put into creating their garden. Never pick plants from your neighbors garden. When picking plants in public areas, be aware of where you are picking from. For instance, it would be important to not pick from wildlife refuges. A lot of hiking trails will specifically ask that you refrain from picking. Different states and cities have rules about what is and isn't okay to pick, so it would be a good idea to do some brushing up on your local rules.
What I usually do is pick weeds from the side of the road or from abandoned lots or from cracks between the sidewalk. Weeds are all very beautiful despite their negative reputation. Another way I get plants is through fallen blooms or leaves. While I would never pick a flower from a neighbors yard, if a flower falls on the sidewalk from your neighbors yard, there is really no problem from rescuing it from wilting alone on the sidewalk. If you have space to garden, you can even grow flowers with the specific purpose of plucking a few for your herbarium.

Identification: It is a good idea to identify the plant before the plant has been fully pressed. Things change during the pressing process like the color of petals. Details like this can make it more difficult to figure out the correct plant.  I like to either get weed identification guides from the library or use the trusty help of the internet search bar. The advantage of the actual book guide is that it feels a little more like solving a miniature mystery. You have to search out the clues to figure out what the right plant is. But with the internet, you just have to type "Purple flower weed Washington State six petals" and then go to google images. This usually leads to results quicker.

Pressing: Find a book that isn't your favorite. If all your books are your favorite, you can easily get a flower pressing book from the library. Find paper towel with out any texture. You need the paper towel because when a flower is pressed, the moisture is squeezed out and gets the pages of the books soggy. This can also lead to you opening your book and find a moldy flat flower instead of a beautifully preserved pressed flower. You want untextured paper towels because textured paper towels can lead unnatural patterns on the pressed plant. Put the flower between two paper towels then press between pages of your flower pressing book. You want a book devoted to the purpose of flower pressing for similar reasons you use the paper towels. The moisture of the flowers can cause damage to the pages. This is less likely with the use of paper towels but still possible. For extra pressure, put your flower pressing book under a stack of some other books. You should press the flower for 2 to 4 weeks.

Mounting: You will need to decide how you want to display your herbarium specimens. Maybe you get special card stock paper, maybe you get a special book of plant mounting. I got a 'toned gray' sketchbook at my art store to use for my herbarium. I like it a lot and recommend it! To mount the plant specimen you will need a paint brush and elmers glue. Paint a thin layer of elmers glue on the back of the flower and press onto the mounting page. Somewhere on the same page, write down the name of the plant. I like to write both the common and scientific name.

The best part of the herbarium project is it can be ongoing for as long as you like. There will always be more plants to collect! After all, there are an estimated 1,589,361 plants on this earth! (source)