How to prepare a Herbarium

  • Field notebook - this should be used to record the data relevant to each specimen.
  • Labels - for numbering specimens (tie-on type, or masking tape).
  • Plastic bag - to store specimens in during the day while collecting. Zip lock bags are the most suitable to use as they can be tightly sealed. Push out all air and keep cool in the refrigerator. This will keep most plant specimens fresh for a few days until they are identified and pressed. Do not put water in with the specimen as it is not necessary.
  • Optional but helpful : secateurs, gloves for spiky plants, trowel for grasses and other herbs which need the belowground parts for identification.
  • Dry newspapers
  • Corrugated cardboard separators - which are rectangles of corrugated cardboard, the same size as the newspaper pages - these are used to allow air to flow between the sheets containing the plant material. This speeds up the drying process considerably and greatly reduces the incidence of fungal rot, which can consume a fleshy plant specimen in a matter of days.
  • A press. This can be made of masonite or similar material and should be the same size as the newspaper pages.
  • Straps, belts or ropes to bind the press together. Plants may also be adequately pressed under a board or similar firm platform and weighed down with heavy books or bricks.

Specimens must have all the morphological characters needed to identify the plant: flowers, a good sample of leaves and fruit where possible. The identification of some groups requires further information, e.g. eucalypts require buds, fruit, flowers and bark!

It is absolutely essential that proper records be kept of:

LOCATION: where the plant was found – a traceable location description. Give a grid reference or Lat./Long. if possible.

HABIT: how the plant was growing, e.g. shrub, tree, vine, herb, etc.

OTHER NOTES: information that might prove useful for identification – bark type and colour, colour of flower (these often fade while drying), presence and type of fruit (if of a nature that precludes collection, e.g. juice-filled), sap colour and consistency (if present), leaf colour, texture and smell of crushed leaves etc.

HABITAT: in what environment the plant was growing – whether a forest, plains, swamp and so on, and the type of vegetation – whether rainforest, open forest, woodland, heath etc.

COLLECTOR: the person who actually collected the plant

DATE COLLECTED: this gives an indication of flowering or fruiting time

Without this information, specimens are valueless, for in the event of a specimen being of scientific or other importance, we have no guide to help us locate further specimens. (Please refer to specimen collection details slip for more information.)

Fresh material is the best for identification (note that some keys work on dried characteristics, eg Casuarinas). When specimens cannot be ID’d straight away, as well as to keep a record of those which you do ID, they may be dried in the following way.

Conventionally, plant material is sandwiched between several layers of newspaper, then a corrugated cardboard sheet, more newspaper, another specimen, newspaper, cardboard and so on. You may need several sheets of newspaper for each specimen, depending on how moist/fresh they are.

Try to arrange the plant material as well as you can on the newspaper such that the parts that are relevant for identification are clearly displayed, especially details such as leaf arrangement and floral morphology. Eg turn up some leaves so you can see their underside; spread them out so you can see their shapes and sizes. Keep the flowering stems away from the rest of the plant, by judicious bending, but avoid cutting the specimen into pieces wherever possible. Flowers are very delicate and can be readily distorted in the drying process unless care is taken.

Long thin plants can be folded in a zig-zag pattern; try to keep the aerial parts of the plant pointing upwards as such (see diagram). Bulky fruit can often be sectioned transversely and the section dried.

Put the end boards on and strap them up reasonably firmly, or apply adequate weight to the top of the stack. You should change the paper at least every 2 days to avoid fungal rot. Alternatively, put the stack near a hot air radiator, with the air directed ALONG the tubes of the corrugated cardboard, and the heater set on LOW heat. Under these conditions the stack should be dry in about 3 to 4 days. Some success has been had drying specimens with a microwave. Results are variable depending on the plant and a traditional press may end up being the quicker method. You should research this method thoroughly if you intend to use it.

Labels should be attached to the lower right hand corner of the mounting sheet. A3 cartridge paper makes good mounting sheets.

Dried plants should be affixed to the sheet using strips of paper coated with adhesive, self adhesive labels cut into thin strips or thin sticky tape. Glue is not suitable. One specimen should be adhered to each sheet. If you have taken a picture of the plant, this can be mounted in a plastic bag on the top part of the sheet. Loose material such as fruit, flowers, seed etc can be placed in a plastic bag and attached to the mounting sheet with a pin.

The full scientific name should be cited. This includes the abbreviations at the end of the species name known as the Authority. The authority indicates the person/persons responsible for describing and publishing the name and any subsequent alterations to it. E.g Choricarpia leptopetala (F. Muell.) Domin.

Each finished sheet should be separated by tissue or other thin paper which prevents damage to the specimen and allows it to be handled readily.

A number of the plants found in the Illawarra and southern Sydney area are protected by Federal or State Government legislation which means that no part of the plant may be collected without official permission. These regulations have been enacted not only to protect rare and endangered species but also to reduce the effects of commercial wildflower collectors, as well as the effects of the unenlightened amateurs, who enthusiastically and ignorantly haul plants out by the roots, when removing a small part of the flowering stem would have sufficed. This has resulted in a decrease in the populations of popular flowering plants especially in areas bordering cities. If you find you have inadvertently collected something which is protected, please submit it to the herbarium so that we can incorporate it into our records.

If you would like more detailed information on collecting and preserving specimens, please refer to the following website: