Ontario Wildflowers website

Learning to Identify Wildflowers

by Karen Sherwood

When I think back, way back, to my formal education in botany, some of the most valuable skills I learned came from a term project in a taxonomy class. We were required to make an herbarium collection of over 200 dried and pressed plants. It was a wonderful learning experience for me. It enabled me look at a real plant any time of the year.

To make your own herbarium collection, start with a plant press that is at least 8" X 10" in size. Avoid pressing plants between the pages of a book. That only leads to mouldy, discoloured plants, and damaged books.

When you collect a plant to be pressed, select an average sample that shows representative examples of both leaves and flowers. Carefully flatten the plant. Making sure that both sides of the leaves are visible. This allows you to identify characteristics that vary from one side to the other. Make sure that the flowers, and their arrangement on the stem, are well shown as well. By firmly pressing on the plant stem at the leaf nodes you can keep the plant flat while closing the press.

Allow plants to remain in the press for a minimum of two days and up to a week. When they are thoroughly dry, mount them on acid free paper or card stock, available at art supply stores. Using watered down "Elmer's" white glue, coat the back side of the plant and arrange it on the paper. You may want to leave some space on the paper for samples of the same plant collected in different seasons.

Finally, do not forget to put an identification tag on the bottom of the page that includes such information as the scientific and common names, the family, the dates collected, habitat and country. In my own collection I also include a brief description of the uses and preparation of the plant. You will find that, time and time again, you will refer back to your collection to recall the colors, textures, and uses of these wonderful plants you have collected. I am sure you will find that the time you spend on this project will be worth the effort. In fact, I still have my first project, and I still refer to it. Happy foraging.

From True Tracks, Winter-Spring 1996, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from True Tracks, visit the Tracker Trail website.