Make Your Own Herbarium

Imagine a time when smart phones didn’t exist. Hard to envision? Now imagine a time when photography wasn’t as accessible as it is today. Documentation of any kind wasn’t produced by a subtle touch with an index finger. As naturalists and explorers ventured into the unknown world, journals were utilized as a main source of data collection. This was especially instrumental for gardeners and botanists to transfer specimens, drawings and observations during their voyages. 

Two Saturdays were allocated to honor the magnificent beauty of plants. From dandelions to seaweed, documentation for these organisms was put to practice by enthusiastic students.  The instructor of the class, Sharon Nelson, led the first session with an introduction and history behind the Herbarium which dates back to early explorers in the 1800s, in particular Charles Darwin during his exploration of the Beagle in 1831 (See Origin of Species). Herbariums are often thought to be about growing herbs, when in fact it’s a systematically arranged collection and record of preserved plants. This methodology has given many an opportunity to study plants and their environments. One person who had unquenchable curiosity about the natural world was Meriwether Lewis. While Clark kept records of maps and was in charge of the expedition literacy along with the preparation for publication, Lewis did nearly all of the observations, collections and recordings of the plant specimens (See The Definitive Journals of Lewis and Clark - Herbarium). 

If you aren’t an explorer or botanist but you have an affinity towards plants, this is a therapeutic, creative and beautiful way of keeping a personal record of them. The instructor's interest in Herbarium was due to it being a bridge between art and science, like all botanical art. Five eager students participated in this course, and during the second class, they brought their favorite specimens and used them to make collages and book marks.

Afterwards an evaluation was given where some comments shared were “I find dead/dry plants very attractive now,” “a new appreciation of leaves – a good way to relax and express your creativity,” and “lovely, fun and interactive. Good mix of activities and information, a lot of content and material.”

What are some of the many uses of a herbarium?

  1. Keeping track of different medicinal and gastronomic uses of plants and how to prepare the plants for consumption.
  2. Documenting different plants that you find in the wild and where you have found them so that you can identify them later.
  3. Keeping a record of different places you have been and the beauty you have seen there.
  4. Decorating a wall in your home, office, or school.
  5. Providing a project-based learning experience for students.
  6. Providing a sample for sketches and scientific illustration.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully we planted a seed of knowledge to further branch your interests. And for next time, here is some "encourage-mint" so you "leaf" this page with a more than "oak-kay" day.