The Herbarium - A Research and Identification Tool

Herbarium: Webster dictionary definition is: "a collection of dried specimens of plants, systematically arranged".

A well-kept herbarium collection is a fundamental aid in plant identification, in maintaining an historical record of the plants, teaching, and for research on species diversity. Living plants are easier to identify than the pressed herbarium samples, but these collections are very useful specifically when all the species of one genus are available for identification and comparison. Existing specimens of endangered plants are especially valuable as dissection of the flower and digging up of the roots is not recommended or prohibited.

Specimen Mounts:

Pressing the herbarium samples can distort the structural pattern and obscure some of the characteristics that differentiate orders and families and for this reason accompanying photographs of live plants can be an asset to the collection. The specimen should include the entire plant. The root system, the entire stem, lower and upper leaves, flowers, and where possible the fruit as all are essential for accurate identification. The specimens are collected live and pressed in a plant press to be dried within a couple of days.

Specimen Labels:

The data for the specimen labels are recorded first in a field book and should include: locality of the specimen found, date, collector, specimen number, and may also include vegetation type, soil type, altitude, drainage system and other field notes. This information is included on the specimen label and is mounted on the 12"x18" (54x 82cm) specimen sheet.

Plant DNA vs. Herbarium Samples as a Tool for Identification:

The DNA analysis of plants may prove that some Herbarium samples are misclassified. The implication of these findings may be that DNA analysis may perpetrate the obsolescence of Herbarium Collections.

Currently the practice of DNA analysis (DNA Fingerprinting) for plant identification in cultivated (cloned) species is difficult; however it can be used to identify plants that reproduce sexually in the wild. DNA Fingerprinting may therefore supercede the practice of Herbarium collection. However the historic records that these collections represent remain a significant record of plant diversity. And furthermore, framed and mounted herbarium specimens can be appreciated as significant works of art!