DIY: Create a Plant Herbarium

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Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. When she isn’t in her suburban garden, hiking or crafting, she is teaching pre-k with an emphasis on nature and gardening. For more ideas on Simple Living With Nature you can visit her blogs

Creating a plant herbarium this spring and summer will be a rewarding endeavor. When I took an herbal studies course from Jeanne Rose one of the assignments was to create an herbarium. Browsing through the pages of the herbarium collection I created, and reading the labels, brought back memories of when and where I collected them. For example, the poppy I picked in my grandmother’s yard, the borage I collected in a friend’s garden, some herbs I had collected 5 months before my daughter was born, which was 15 years ago, and others reminded me of places I had visited.

An herbarium collection contains plants that have been pressed, dried flat and mounted on sheets of heavy, acid free paper and labeled with essential collected data. This procedure follows a time-honored practice. Herbariums are essential for the study of plant taxonomy, the study of geographic distributions and the stabilizing of nomenclature, which is an international system of standardized new Latin names used in biology for kinds, and groups of kinds of animals and plants.

A specimen for a plant herbarium may consist of a whole plant (a small herb) or parts of large trees and bushes. There are many different types of collections. One type includes carpological, which is the branch of botany that relates to the structure of seeds and fruit, economic botany, essential oils, wood samples and specimens that are stored in spirits.

Pages from my personal herbarium collection.
Photo by Desiree Bell

Carlos Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial and nomenclature. His herbarium, which includes 14,000 plants, now belongs to the Linnean Society of England in Piccadilly, London. His specimens can be accessed online at

The largest plant herbarium is the Museum National d’ Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is the fourth largest herbarium in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. An herbarium curator is responsible for its long term care so that current and future generations can identify plants, study biodiversity and use the collection in support of conservation, ecology and sustainable development.

Herbarium Materials

To create an herbarium collection, gather as much of the plant as possible (flowers, stems, leaves, seed and fruit). Press the plants with a purchased plant press. You can also make one with two pieces of plywood that measure 12-inch wide, 18-inch tall and ½-inch thick, cardboard, unprinted newspaper (or white paper) and some sort of strapping to hold all the layers adequately when pressing. (A phone book can also be used.)

Pressing hollyhocks.
Photo by Desiree Bell

Herbarium Instructions

When pressing, the sequence is cardboard, paper, specimen, newspaper, cardboard. If specimens are bulky, additional paper may be needed for proper pressure. It can take 3 to 5 days for the collected material to dry and be properly pressed.

Once the specimens are dry they can be mounted to clean white paper using glue appropriate for plants. They can also be sewn on. The following information needs to be included when labeling specimens: name of location collected; name of plant (common and scientific); date collected; collector; and any special notes. The label should be attached to the right corner of the sheet–this is customary practice in herbaria worldwide and it allows for easy reading when in a folder. (As you can see in the first photo, I labeled mine on the wrong side.)

Now would be a good time to gather items needed to start an herbarium collection. Look around your yard or surrounding area for plants you would like to press. When ready find some sharp clippers, cut your specimens, press, mount, label and then put the pages in a folder or binder for future reference and memories to come.

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