We’re working on a fun science project at Wintergreen Studios this summer. In the interest of tallying and identifying all the species of plants on our land, we’re constructing a herbarium. A herbarium is essentially a library of plants, a vast collection that catalogs the species composition in our surrounding area. When a plant is picked, it needs to be dried out and then mounted on a rigid piece of cardboard for display.
Each entry is a single plant along with particular attributes:
- the plant itself, identified with its family, genus, and species
- the precise (GPS) location where the plant was found
- a short description of the habitat where the plant was found
- the name of the person who collected the plant and the name of the identifier
- the plant’s cataloging number
- the date on which the plant was picked
- the name of the institution where the plant is stored
When picking a plant, it is important to have all of its parts. That is, the roots, stems and leafs, flowers, and fruits. This way, you have a complete view of the plant and identification is much easier with all of the plant components. Identifying the plant is the hardest part and requires patience and the proper tools to help you out. A 10X magnifying glass will be useful, as will a field guide and identification key.
Herbariums are a great source of information for universities and botanical gardens. They are most typically utilized for scientific consultation, in situ visits, inter-institutional loans and exchanges, and now, web consultations as more and more of the information can be easily digitized. The Royal Botanical Gardens and the University of Montreal have two of the largest herbariums in Canada.
Big institutions protect the plants in tall, hermetically enclosed, fire resistant cases. The cataloged plants contain valuable information about habitat, chemical composition and DNA, to name a few, that needs to be well protected in order to preserve the plants. Should some of the plants become extinct, these banks are the only chance we have a restoring the plants to life on earth.
Now, our project will not be quite as involved as the herbarium you’d find at the Royal Botanical Garden, but nonetheless, it will be complete, precise, and incredibly fun to make. With hundreds of species to identify, this project will certainly take a few years to complete. I’d better get started!