Have you ever wondered why botanical gardens were created? They are not merely decorative. These are herbaria that house various species of plants in order to carry out studies and research in different areas. If you don’t know what a herbarium is, I recommend that you keep reading.
What is a herbarium and what is it for?
Let’s first clarify the question of what is a herbarium. It is a collection of plants or parts of them that are preserved, dried and identified that have critical information, the collector and the place and the date of their collection. Although this term refers mainly to the collection of dry plants itself, the physical space in which the collection is located is also called a herbarium.
Usually, the largest collections are usually found in research institutions, such as university departments or botanical gardens. They are usually based on the collecting work carried out by their researchers and the exchanges made with similar institutions are added.
In addition, an important part of all botanical research is due to the plant material found in herbaria, especially all those related to the taxonomy of plants. However, it is also useful for biogeographic, floristic and even molecular studies.
Speaking of what a herbarium is, we have already mentioned that its function is of great importance for various studies and research. However, we can highlight a total of three more points in terms of its usefulness:
- They help to get to know the local, regional, national and international flora.
- They conserve specimens of endemic plants that are in danger of extinction.
- In a formal and informal way, herbaria they educate people about the diversity and importance of plants.
How do you make a herbarium?
Before creating a herbarium, we must be aware of what it entails. You have to look for the plants, collect them, press them, dry them and finally make the assembly. Through this process, we can become familiar with the diversity of colors, textures and shapes of vegetables. In addition, we will learn to differentiate the different species. As we already know what a herbarium is, we can assume that plants related to the project are collected for each herbarium. That is to say: If we want to make a herbarium of medicinal plants, for example, we should only collect those vegetables that are part of this category.
We must also bear in mind that a series of materials and utensils is necessary to be able to carry out the creation of our herbarium. Below we will find a list of the equipment:
- Corrugated cardboard
- Botanical press
- Diary paper
- Pencil (a ballpoint pen should never be used as ink may rub off in rain)
- Large plastic bags
When collecting the plants, it is very important that have stem, flowers or fruits in good condition and leaves. These structures are what will allow us to identify the different species, so they are essential for a good herbarium. However, in the case of orchids and ferns, the root is also necessary, removing as much soil as possible.
In addition, each specimen it should be about 30 centimeters in size. In the case that they are larger, they should be divided into three parts in order to adjust them to the measurements. On the contrary, if the plants are smaller, the ideal would be to collect several specimens. As for the number, the usual is take three to five samples for each species.
Another requirement that we must comply with are the labels. Each copy must have one with a number that must coincide with our notes in the field notebook. For each of the plants we must write down the following:
- Corresponding plant number
- Common name
- Our name, or that of the collector
- Locality in which it was collected
- Collection date
- Additional information about the place, such as the weather or altitude
- Plant ecology
- Flower and / or fruit color
- Leaf and stem types
- Soil type
- Vegetation (jungle, forest, acahual, etc.)
The most advisable thing is to press the collected plants as soon as possible, if possible the same day. However, if we cannot carry out this work at the moment, we must use large plastic bags to keep the copies in them and try to keep the bag closed. This way we will try to keep the humidity at a high level so that the plants do not wilt. When pressing, it must be as exact as possible to the natural state of the plant. That is, the arrangement of the stem with its flowers, fruits and leaves must reproduce the plant.
What types of herbs are there?
Now that we know what a herbarium is and how to make one, let’s see the different types that exist. They can be classified according to the specimens they house:
- International Herbaria: These host floras from all over the world.
- National: They contain specimens from a specific country.
- Regional and local: Here you can find floras from a specific region, province or area.
- Teaching Herbaria: These are attached to educational institutions. In these herbaria, students keep their collections.
- Research Herbaria: They contain specimens of plants that belong to a specific field of knowledge. This could be, for example, medicinal plants, cultivated plants or specific families such as Asteraceae or Fabaceae. There are also research herbaria that house a specific group of vegetables, such as bryophytes or aquatic plants.
Apart from the main collection of dried plant specimens, a herbarium stores many more things related to botany. Among them are wood samples, collections of seeds and fruits, fungi, bryophytes, fossils and even plant material that has been preserved in preservative liquids. In addition, we can find photographs, illustrations, copies of specimens or microscopic preparations.
Therefore we can say that a herbarium is like a botanical museum. Because of this, it is always a very interesting place for lovers of phytology.