Translated by Nick R
I’m sure, at some point in your life, you were asked to create a herbarium for a school assignment. At first, it may have been a task that didn’t really catch your attention, but I bet once you did it, you realized how much of an exciting project it was.
Unconsciously you would start collecting all kinds of leaves and flowers for your herbarium, treating them carefully so they wouldn’t get damaged, and then, you would look up the necessary information about each species.
In the end, you came up with some sort of plant book, with real samples and their corresponding information. Didn’t you find it a beautiful thing? In my case, I did. I couldn’t stop getting excited and thinking about a new plant for my collection.
For this reason, I’ll share everything you need to create your own herbarium if you haven’t done it yet. I’ll talk about how important they are, the step-by-step to make one, and their care, and I’ll finish by mentioning a couple of species you can start your herbarium with.
By doing this project, you and your children will learn about herbariums while bonding together and having fun.
Table of Contents
What is a herbarium?
A herbarium is defined as a collection of dried or botanized plants, i.e., collected to be studied. You can take higher plants (capable of developing their own food), flowering plants, ferns, mosses, algae, fungi or mushrooms.
In your herbarium, you can also have seeds, fruits, pieces of wood, as well as photos you’ve taken of certain plants, and even from botanical gardens.
The concept behind creating a herbarium arises from the need of knowing most of the plant composition of a certain region. There are an infinite number of plant species that are worth studying.
As I have mentioned in other blogs, plants can provide us with a series of medicinal, nutritional, industrial, and ornamental benefits, among others. They are also capable of helping each other and animals, for example, pollinators.
This is fascinating for any nature lover. It allows to be able to know some species of a genus or plant family, appreciate their morphology, know how they reproduce, where they originate from, and their seasonal behavior, among other characteristics, becomes a very enriching experience.
Just then, we talk about the importance of herbariums, as it lies in representing and systematizing vegetal biodiversity. This facilitates its study, analysis, and scientific or botanical research in a professional field.
In addition, with herbariums, you can learn more about local, regional, national, and exotic plants. They are helpful in the conservation of endemic or endangered species. And finally, with herbariums, besides learning yourself, you can teach other people about the importance of plants and their diversity.
How to make a herbarium?
If you’re in this section, it’s because, like me, you discovered a strong desire to create your own herbarium and learn about the fantastic world of plants. First, you should have the following materials at hand to start making your herbarium:
- Pruning shears or regular scissors
- Decorating materials
- Plastic bags
- Pencil or pen
- Newspaper sheets
- Blank white sheets
- Pressing planks
- 2 tape clamps
- Adhesive tape
Step 1. Preparation of materials
This step is essential since you must have all the materials ready and prepared to start your project. This will help you have fun during the process and not become stressed about not having everything ready.
The first thing to do is prepare the herbarium booklet, that is, where you’ll register both the plant samples or seeds and their technical data.
For that, you can use sheets of white paper or cardboard of the size you like, I suggest the A4 letter size to start with, but others will do the job.
Once you have them ready, you should choose the booklet cover, either it can be a folder, a book format, a kind of small box, or whatever you like. After deciding what you’ll use to keep the booklet in, you can decorate and personalize it as you like.
Give it a name, and if you like drawing, you can add some examples. Also, you could use pieces of fabric or recyclable paper for the decoration. You’ll need paper, scissors, markers, paint, glue and all the materials you like. Here you can prove your imagination.
Next, you’ll prepare the material for pressing and drying the plants you’ve collected. For this you need newspaper sheets, pressing planks (wooden or other heavy objects), and tape clamps or presses if you want.
Step 2. Collecting the plants
Here you’ll do the fieldwork. You can go to your garden or neighborhood park to collect the plants. All you need are plastic bags, gardening scissors, and a notebook and pen to make notes.
Also, remember to pack some water, sunscreen, and comfortable clothing to make the harvesting easier. Careful! Don’t forget that plants are living beings, so you must ask their permission to take a piece of them. It’s believed that in this way, they won’t be resentful.
At this point, you should collect the plant as completely as possible. It should have its leaves, flowers, fruit and some seeds. This way it’ll be easier to know what type of plant it is.
Use the scissors to make a small cut in the branch that you’ll take as a sample. You’ll keep it in the plastic bag to preserve moisture until you get home.
In the notebook, write down everything visible about this plant: the area in which it grows, whether it receives a lot or little sunlight, the colors of its flowers, the size, the name (sometimes the plants are labeled), among other characteristics.
You can label them with numbers or letters so you can identify them when taking them to the pressing step. Write the number on a small piece of paper, and stick it in the sample bag.
You may take as many plants as you like. Remember that this is a project for you and your family or friends to learn. The more plants, the richer your herbarium will be.
Step 3. Drying and pressing of plants
At this point, you’ll use the pressing planks, the tensioners (or any other element you have), and the newspaper to put weight on the plants. The objective of the pressing is to remove the excess water from the plants to help them dry out faster.
As for pressing, take the plants you collected out of the plastic bag.
Then, arrange them over the newspaper, trying that each part of the plant can be appreciated. You should see the top and bottom of the leaves, the flowers on one side and in the center. In case you also got some, the fruits and seeds should be visible too.
Avoid overlapping the parts of the plant or they may not dry properly and fungus or bacteria could develop. You must be very attentive so that you don’t spoil your herbarium.
That is why you should follow each step with calm and enjoy the process.
Once you have arranged the plant on the newspaper sheets, you can mark a piece of paper with the number or letter. This will make it easier to distinguish the species when arranging them in the booklet.
Cover the plant with another newspaper sheet, and on top, place another of the samples you collected. So on and so forth until you have finished. After that, use the pressing planks, one as a base and the other as a cover, to put the plants in the middle, like a sandwich.
With the tensioners, you’re going to tighten the boards; this will generate pressure on the plants and accelerate the drying process. This process lasts 1 week.
Step 4. Elaboration of the herbarium
After the time for drying has passed, you’ll take the plants and place them on the sheets of paper or cardboard that you prepared in step 1. Then, place them in a way they don’t protrude out of the paper and have enough space to be fully appreciated.
You’ll need tape, labels or index cards and a pen. With the tape, carefully stick the plants to the paper sheets avoiding damaging them. This is to prevent them from falling off and losing the samples.
Once you have taped the plants, fill out the data sheet with the information you wrote down in step 2. It should include the name of the plant, the family it belongs to, the date it was collected, and the other aspects you have written down.
If you got seeds, add a small envelope to the sheet next to the datasheet to store them there.
A tip I’d like to give you is to place the specimens in alphabetical order, this way, your herbarium will look much more organized. If you wish, you can also classify it by family, which will make it richer.
Finally, put the cover you made and place it in a cool, dry place with little light. This way, the herbarium won’t be affected by weather conditions, and insects or fungi won’t show up.
Step 5. Herbarium Maintenance
The key to having a long-lasting herbarium is to give it proper maintenance.
Dried plants are susceptible to the attack of fungi, moths, and insects. Therefore, it’s necessary that you fumigate the samples as soon as you notice the appearance of any of these pests.
Spray the sample with a homemade insecticide and change the paper sheet on which it is glued. Also, as mentioned before, it’s fundamental to keep your herbarium in a cool place.
Finally, take care of your herbarium as if it were the most precious book you possess. Remember that it’s your project and that you’ll learn a lot about plants and their diversity.
5 plants to start your herbarium
Now that you have all the resources you need to create your herbarium, I’ll mention 5 plants with which you can start working on this wonderful project.
Arnica or Arnica montana
This is a plant native to Europe, and it can reach 20 to 60 cm high. It has showy bright yellow flowers with thin petals. Its flowering occurs in the summer.
It’s a plant used for medicinal purposes, for treating skin conditions, as an anti-inflammatory, and relieving pain. Its most commonly found in ointments.
Cinnamon or Cinnamomum verum
The cinnamon tree is a small tree found in Asia, from whose bark is extracted the cinnamon that we buy in supermarkets. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Besides its medicinal properties, you can also enjoy it as a culinary ingredient.
Bougainvillea or Bougainvillea spectabilis
It’s a shrubby plant that grows as a vine, can reach 1 to 12 meters tall, and has the ability to grow with few soil requirements.
Its flowers have varied colors such as white, yellow, pink, magenta, purple, red, and orange. It can be used as an ornament to give your garden a beautiful appearance.
Dandelion or Taraxacum officinale
It’s a plant that can grow all over the world thanks to its rapid propagation. It usually grows around 30 cm and has light green leaves, yellow flowers, and fluffy-looking seeds that are dispersed by wind.
It’s used for its medicinal purposes as its roots help control fever, diabetes, diarrhea, and weight loss, among other ailments.
Coriander or Coriandrum sativum
This is an annual plant that can reach a height of 40 to 60 cm. It can be planted in pots or directly in the garden. Also, it has small white flowers that appear in the summer.
It’s used for cooking since all of it is edible. It also has medicinal properties as a stimulant, antispasmodic and digestive. It has a large number of vitamins, such as A, B, C, and E, and minerals, such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
This would be the end of our blog about herbaria. I hope it has awakened in you the interest to create your own. You won’t regret doing this project, and I can promise you that it will be an unparalleled experience.Share this information with those closest to you. I’m sure they also want to learn about plants, their importance and have their own collection.