Collecting Plant Specimens

Specimens should be as complete as possible to facilitate identification and to be useful as a plant collection. A typical branch or portion of the stem c. 20-30 cm long, showing the leaves in position and with flowers and/or fruit is required. In the absence of open flowers, buds should be included. If variation in leaf form is apparent, specimens should include different parts of the same plant to represent this variation. Seeds can be useful in the identification of plants and should be included with the specimen if available.

The size of a specimen is usually governed by the size of the herbarium sheet. Samples about 30 cm long make suitable specimens of most species, as herbarium sheets are about 43 cm long x 28 cm wide. Smaller sheets (e.g. foolscap size, c. 32 cm x 23 cm) may be used if necessary, but they are not recommended since they encourage the collection of inadequate specimens.

For plants with large leaves or massive fruits, do not limit the collection in the name of convenience. It is more important to have a complete, useful specimen than to conform to arbitrary rules (but see below about storage of large specimens).

The features most important for identification vary between different plant groups.The specific requirements fo major plant groups are listed below.

Ferns
Herbs
Grasses
Trees
Plants with large inflorescences or other large parts

 

Field notes and observations

Locality information and details of the appearance of the plant in the field are important for identification purposes. These are also necessary if the specimens are to be usefully incorporated into a herbarium collection.

Observations should be noted down at the time of collection and should include the locality (the distance and direction from a well-known landmark or town should be given and if possible the longitude and latitude of the site), collector's name, date, the shape and size of the plant, and the colour(s) of the flowers or floral parts when fresh. Notes should also indicate whether the plants were cultivated or grew in natural vegetation, disturbed sites, or pasture areas. Except for cultivated plants, it is desirable to note the altitude, rock or soil type if known, and to describe briefly the habitat (e.g. in eucalypt woodland on dry sandstone ridge; moist grassy site near river bank; rooted in gravel, in water 30 cm deep, in fast-flowing stream). The names or specimen numbers of plants surrounding vegetation may be notes.

When collecting more that a few specimens it is necessary to assign a number of each collection and record the corresponding field notes in a notebook. A page of a typical field notebook is shown.

Photographs of whole or part of the plant may be use to supplement the information included in the notes (a note in the field notebook 'photo taken' is then useful).

If additional material (e.g. photos, seeds, wood, spirit collection) is taken, it should also be numbered with the same collection number as the specimen. The collection number may be written directly onto wood samples with a felt-tipped marking pen. Numbers for material preserved in liquid fixative (e.g. alcohol solution) should be written in pencil and placed in the container as many inks are soluble in alcohol; an additional label on the lid or exterior of the container is advantageous.