Plant Collection and Preservation

The Herbarium Specimen

Plant specimens are collected in the field, pressed flat between newspapers, and dried in a plant press.

At the time of collection, the collector takes notes in a field-log about the possible identity of the plant, where and when it was collected, habitat characteristics including soil type and other plant associates, flower color and scent, size and habit of the plant, and any other pertinent information that may not be obtainable from the resultant specimen.

After drying, the plant is mounted on acid-free paper with a label providing the name and classification of the plant as well as all collection data. After mounting, herbarium specimens are stored in special cabinets and are filed in order by taxonomic group and then by geographic origin.

Sunflower Specimen

Plant Collection and Preservation

Preserved plant specimens provide us with important information about plant diversity and distribution, in a relatively permanent, and verifiable form that serves as evidence of a plant’s existence in time and space. If these specimens are properly preserved and maintained, they can last for well over 200 years. In a time where we are experiencing rapid habitat loss, herbaria provide important repositories for these sorts of data, and ensure their availability for future research.

Plant collections are made by botanists, scientists of other disciplines, and citizen scientists in order to document their research and interest. Whenever a plant plays a role in a research study (regardless of the discipline) it is good scientific practice to document this evidence in the form of a plant specimen voucher that will be deposited in a herbarium. Beyond providing support for the research study, this ensures botanists have the opportunity to verify the identification of the plant.

It is particularly important that plant collections be made in such a manner as to increase their longevity as preserved herbarium specimens, as well as optimize their usefulness for future research.

Click here to view the complete Plant Collection and Preservation Guide, produced by BRIT staff.