I make a herbarium

I make a herbarium



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Creating a herbarium seems reserved for the university world, and yet the fun and educational aspect appeals to a good number of amateur practitioners. Kids love it! It is a great activity to make them aware of the diversity of nature. It is also a good way to learn the name of plants for novice botanists.

What is a herbarium, and what is it for?

A herbarium is a collection of dried plants that have been identified and labeled. It allows to make a census of the flora of a chosen place at a given time, and thus follow its evolution over time. It is thanks to this work that we can alert new or invasive plants and Conversely on endangered species.

Collecting plants from your herbarium: how to find a theme?

In order not to be discouraged when collecting plants, it is better to set limits and choose a theme. For example, collecting wild plants from your garden or those from your vacation spot can be a first theme for children who are interested in nature. An infinity of subjects are possible, such as for example the forest of its native region, the edges of a river, the dunes of the littoral, the plants of the mountain pastures or even the aromatic plants, the medicinal plants…

Harvesting plants from its herbarium

During the botanical walk, preferably in dry weather to facilitate drying, the plants collected are kept in a plastic bag or a suitable box. Two specimens are picked if possible: one which will be dissected and observed under a magnifying glass for diagnosis, the other which will be kept for the herbarium. Good digital photos in the field, and in the "studio" (at home) are always useful for the determination, but also to keep track of the original colors of the leaves and flowers, often altered by drying. This implies, upon returning from an outing, to place the plants in a vase while waiting to put them to dry. Be careful not to collect protected species. We are happy with the photo on the spot. Also avoid picking rare plants that only exist in a few. Choose a specimen representative of its species, if possible flowering, it is ideal. Cleanly cut perennials to leave roots or bulbs in place. The branches are removed with pruning shears.

Herbarium: determining the name of the plant

Before going to the drying stage, you need to determine the name of the plant (genus, species, subspecies). You can browse different illustrated flora to find the family or even the desired plant. One can of course, provided you have some knowledge of the botanical vocabulary, use the flora of Gaston Bonnier, a book that references and which allows, by means of determination keys, to identify the plant collected. To avoid confusion, we attach to the recognized plant a post-it indicating his name.

Herbarium: spreading and drying the plant

Making a herbarium requires patience, persistence and a lot of care. Proper spreading of the leaves and flowers makes it possible to highlight the determining criteria for recognition of the plant. The easiest way to dry it is to place it between two sheets of newspaper, or in an old directory, or between blotters and press it with a stack of heavy books. You can also make a press. It is enough to cut two A3 size boards and tighten at the four corners, using screws and wing nuts. Make sure to change the papers every two or three days to prevent the sample from becoming moldy. It is enough to have two sets of papers or blotters that are used alternately. We take advantage of the rotation of the papers to perfect the spreading of the collected specimens. In this case, drying lasts on average two weeks. Another technique is to flatten and dry the plant at the same time by pressing it with an iron. Its humidity level is greatly reduced. It can then be placed directly on its final support which will be left to dry for a few more days.

Herbarium: the right support and labels

The dried plant is fixed on thick white paper (A4 or A3 drawing paper), with discrete pieces of good quality adhesive tape. Often the backing paper is protected with a light plastic pocket. A herbarium made in the rules of art can be kept for more than 100 years! Labeling is important. It includes the headings of identification, family, common and scientific name, but also the date and place of harvest. We can also specify the exposure and the nature of the ground or the uses of the plant. We may add a photo of the subject in its natural environment. The completed documents are classified by families and collected in a filing cabinet or a drawing board.
The "old-fashioned" herbarium is a very aesthetic document which gives a lot of satisfaction when one is the author. It is also a must for an experienced botanist. But there are other modern possibilities to create variants of the herbarium. The color scanner technique can offer great results for spreading plants, whether or not they are printed. But it is no longer a herbarium strictly speaking . However, in the digital age, a collection of well-identified and captioned photos, printed in the form of a book-album, constitutes a real personal flora. Now it's up to you to imagine your herbarium!