Making a herbarium

Nature, identified

If you're interested in botany, you've probably cracked open a herbarium at some point. This collection of plants dried between the pages of a book is the naturalist's oldest tool.

The Ancient Greeks created herbariums to organize their studies of plants. Today, the term 'herbarium' also refers to an establishment or institution that houses such a collection.

Key tools for learning about plant heritage, herbarium collections are heritage treasures that Klorane Botanical Foundation endeavours to protect. Shortly after the Foundation was created in 1994, a donation was made to the Natural History Museum of Paris for the partial restoration of the Herbarium of Asian Solanaceae under the direction of Professor Lu An Min.

 

What is a herbarium?

A herbarium is a collection of dried plants that are flattened and preserved between sheets of paper. Each plant is labelled with its scientific name and its common (or vernacular) name.

Herbariums function as a catalogue of the diversity of the Earth's plants. They serve to identify them and keep their memory alive.

 

How is a herbarium made?

Making a herbarium is a simple, fun activity. Simply follow the recommendations below to make your own herbarium and expand your knowledge of the world of plants.

How to gather the plants?

Before picking a plant or part of one, make sure it's not a protected or endangered species. It is forbidden by law to pick certain naturally-growing plant species in order to protect them from becoming scarce or even extinct, and to avoid damaging their environment. Authorization is required to pick plants from certain public or private areas. Once the plants have been identified (and you have verified that they can be picked), they must be collected as gently as possible, without uprooting them, to ensure that the leaves and petals do not fall off. For more voluminous plants, it is possible to pick only a single stem with a few leaves or flowers. For a tree, for example, only a leafy twig should be taken. The plants collected should be placed in a box or basket, taking care not to damage them. They can be identified using a Flora.

How to dry the plants?

This is an important step, since drying will allow the plants to be correctly preserved. To do so, place a sheet of blotting paper over 5 or 6 sheets of newspaper. Carefully lay the plant on the blotting paper and cover it with another sheet of blotting paper and 5 or 6 more sheets of newspaper (or use an old phone book, placing the plants inside it to dry). Press the plant and paper assembly under 3 or 4 heavy books. Let the plants dry for 10 or 15 days, changing the blotting paper every 2 or 3 days.

How to complete the herbarium?

This is the most rewarding stage: the discovery of the dried plant. After carefully removing the sheets of newspaper and blotting paper, gently pick up the plant and attach it to a page in your herbarium with a bit of glue or tape. The sample can also be sewn onto the page with a few stitches. Carefully write the name of the plant and the date and place it was found on the label at the bottom of the page.

 

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