Do you remember your biology lessons back in school? Did you and your class at any time go outside to collect plants and flowers to dry and study? Most kids didn’t take this project too seriously. Of course, I did. And I still like to collect leaves and flowers. I often press them between the pages of the dictionary or in my flower press. Sometimes I display them in a frame.
It’s an old-fashioned hobby, associated by some with old ladies making greeting cards. But it’s also an ancient and serious practice. For centuries, amateur botanists and scientists have collected plants and dried them to preserve them.
An herbarium is a collection of dried and pressed plants, often mounted on a sheet of paper. The specimens may be whole plants or plant parts. Plants should be good representatives of the species. They should also contain all the essential features necessary for identification: leaves, stems, flowers and seeds. The specimens are labelled with all relevant information. Information includes the plant’s common and Latin name, the date and location of collection and the name of the collector.
Pressing plants between sheets of paper and drying them is simple and low-tech. I like the fact that the specimens are still collected and prepared in about the same way as they were hundreds of years ago. Modern techniques are being used, though. Millions of herbarium sheets in collections are being digitised. This way, researchers all over the world can study them online.
I’m not a botanist and I don’t have any intention of starting a scientific collection. For me, drying flowers is a way to preserve their beauty. They remind me of special moments and special places. I still have some roses from my wedding bouquet. I also like to dry flowers from my garden. Wouldn’t it be nice to put them in a notebook and include the date and location to create a garden journal?
Maartje is actually featured in Emily Quinton’s Maker Spaces book. Inside this book, there are drawings, pictures, quotes, and poems. It also has plenty of space to fill with dried leaves or flowers or write your own thoughts. According to the makers, you should always bring the Pocket Herbarium with you when you are taking a stroll through the park or going for a walk in the woods. You can save your finds by putting them between the pages of the book. I think it’s better to dry them first.
Of course, never pick flowers that are protected or endangered. Only collect where plants are available in abundance, leave enough flowers for others to enjoy!
The book is only available in Dutch. I’m sorry for my non-Dutch readers, but you can, of course, use any notebook to start your own herbarium.
During my research for this blog post, I discovered that the American poet Emily Dickinson, who loved nature and was an avid gardener, made an herbarium when she was 14 years old!
It was quite a popular hobby during the Victorian age to collect specimens of wildflowers and press them to form a herbaria collection. Emily Dickinson gathered, dried and pressed over 400 specimens into a leather-bound album. She arranged her specimens artistically, labelling them with their Latin name. The herbarium has been digitized, each page of the album is reproduced in full color at full size and doesn’t it look wonderful? You have to follow the link to see it, because all images are copyrighted.
Because she lived in the Victorian age, Emily Dickinson also knew the language of flowers. I wrote a blog post about it a few weeks ago. Often she used flowers to speak for her. Dickinson lived a reclusive life but send many letters to her friends. She frequently included dried flowers. She would also send friends and neighbors fragrant bouquets from her garden with poems tucked into them. Apparently, they liked the posy more than the poetry.
I want to end this blog post with a poem by Emily Dickinson. I love poetry though I don’t often read it. A lot of people think poetry is difficult to understand. But this poem really captures the feeling of summer. The weather has been beautiful these last days, and when I come downstairs in the morning and open the door to the garden, it feels like this:
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn,
A flash of dew, a bee or two,
A caper in the trees, —
And I’m a rose!