Pressing Matters pt. 1 | Flora

My Herbarium: Way too girly, I know.

For the past five months or so, I have been working on a herbarium. For those of you who maybe don't know what a herbarium is (I didn't until this year, shamefully, considering I am studying for a Zoology degree and my parents are basically botanists), it is a collection of pressed plant specimens, each with a label to give information about that particular plant, and is something often created by universities or botanical gardens, along with other organisations and individuals.
        For me, my herbarium started out as just something for me to learn a little about plants but just have a nice time compiling. Now however, my purposes have changed somewhat. Although I still want it to be something to do for my own enjoyment in my free time, it has totally changed my perspective on plants, and in fact Plants are becoming to me just as, if not more interesting than birds.

  My herbarium wasn't at first as succesful as some other people's (my lack of a botanical press making me a little lazy to get all my books out and pile them on top of specimens, to blame), but after my trip to Spain I was able to really garner some motivation - how could I not with the stunning diversity of Flora there, and so my herbarium is now up to (enter number) species. 

One of my first herbarium plates. The old label design, which was definitely lacking in useful information.

A bunch of keys: tackling identification
As someone who had never really looked all that closely at plants before, my method of identifying the plants mostly involved looking at a photo guide or just the drawings in key, a mortal sin to most biologists

Pressing matters
Having a press isn't necessary in order to have a successful herbarium, though it does make things a little easier and quicker and mean you can have everything in once place as opposed to having piles of books everywhere. I'm looking to get a press for about forty pounds or less, which seems to be the average price and there is one on the Watkins & Doncaster website that seems as though it would be perfect for both using at home as well as out in the field, in order to start pressing the plants whilst as fresh as possible.
        Sadly, being the poor-ish student that I am, money doesn't always permit purchasing luxuries such as botanical presses, and so for now books are my only option. But this also means that creating a Herbarium can be one of the cheapest natural pursuits out there. All that is required are some big heavy books, some newspaper for absorbing the excess water from the plants (remember to change this regularly), the plants themselves (of course), and some paper to mount them on which could be just simple A4; all things you're likely to have lying around the house.

The wonderful press of Gui, I had the privilege of using during the summer in Spainland. 

Labelling your herbarium is key. What you include is totally up to you, and is likely to depend what you'll be using yours for. The minimum information needed, is the plant name, and it's always a good idea to make sure you include the Scientific name, as this is the most reliable and many plants have a number of different common names. For example, at first I only saw my herbarium as a recreational thing, so my labels were pretty simple with only the Common and Scientific names, the order (not very useful really...), date, who collected it, and where. If your herbarium is for science, then you can add as many other categories as you like, such as family, biotype etc etc. Taking a look on the Google images at other people's herbariums may prove helpful as it did for me, as many templates for labels can be found.

Newer label design (Spanish edition) which sounds much cleverer.

Compiling your herbarium
Once I have mounted the plants I keep them in plastic wallets in a lever-arch file. This has worked for me so far, and the plastic wallets are a good two in one, protecting the plants but allowing you to see them at the same time. However, as my collection has somewhat expanded, this isn't providing the best storage for me any more, and I have a few options. A cheap option would be to keep the plants in their existing wallets, but to have instead of the lever-arch file, one of those boxes you see alongside them in shops (I apologise if that makes no sense, I don't know what they're called). Alternatively, I'm also considering removing the plastic wallets, and putting each specimen in an individual paper folder with a label on the inside, and then just piling them up with something heavy on top and sticking them into a drawer or cupboard or shelf (as I have seen many others do). These are all I've thought of so far, so if anybody out there has any suggestions of alternatives I'd be very grateful if you'd leave me a comment.
        If this all seems like too much effort (which duh, it often is for me), there are other ways of Herbariuming, one of which I will talk about later in this post.

The perfect storage option for an ever-growing herbarium. 

Caught green handed
There are, of course, plants which by law cannot be pressed. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the Orchidaceae family which is protected in Britain, but there are many other species which should not be picked given their threatened status, not only because we are told not to but also it is a shame when it is much nicer to see these in there natural habitat in all their glory. Information on which plants you cannot pick, can be found here. 

As I mentioned earlier there are other ways of creating a herbarium, if, for whatever reason, pressing isn't for you. The best alternative (that I have come across so far) is of course a photographic herbarium, which can too yield awesome results. Although I do have many pressed specimens, there are some plants which cannot be pressed very well, for example some flowers, and also succulent plants, as this would lead to damaging the plants, and in the case of the flowers perhaps detracting from their true beauty as the colour seems to become a lot less vivid after pressing and they tend to lose their shape (though maybe in some cases it could be that I just haven't mastered the technique). It might also be that some plants which it is illegal to pick and pres, or that you simply don't have the space to have books piled everywhere, or the time to be keeping an eye on your specimens to check the paper's dry and they're pressing well etc etc. Either way, part of my herbarium is digital, and it is a great way to show off your photography. You can create an online database or page which is quicker to refer than a physical herbarium, and it makes a nice addition to your blog or website.
        I myself have made one, though as it currently stands it's basically a photographic list of all the plants I've seen, without any useful information. But I'm working on it! You can see that here.

My new favourite tree.
Unfortunately, this time of year isn't the greatest for pressing as most plants are without flowers, and many without leaves too. For this reason, I'll only be photographing any plants I see of interest, rather than collecting specimens, as it is a good way to get record of how the plants look at different times of the year and provide yourself with a reference for identification.
       I'm looking forward to when everything is back to being green and in bloom, and to collecting some new and interesting flora to add to my collection, in my new patches, further afield in the UK, and once again in Spain. And hopefully by then I'll have a press to make it all so much easier!

One of the nicest smelling specimens in the herbarium.

DISCLAIMER: (after the post) I apologise for the unfunny titles


  1. Brilliant, I enjoyed your post. Did you scan or photograph the pages? They look great.

    1. Thanks Africa! The photos were taken with Gui's camera. Unfortunately don't have a scanner, but they turned out pretty well so not really necessary after all!

  2. Hi Jessica, It's great to see you sharing your work in the Botanical Art for Beginners group. We love seeing information like this and it really inspires me to want to get out there again and press some specimens.

    1. Thanks Sarah! You should do it, it's shame the plants aren't at their best right now though. I want Spring!

  3. Congratulations for your post, Jesso. You've got some species in your herbarium that are not usual in normal herbariums, consider yourself lucky for being able to reach two different biogeographical regions and making your plant collection richer. Well done. ♥