How-To: Make a Herbarium

As we in the more northern parts of the world scramble to make the most of these last weeks where things actually grow, why not make like Emily Dickinson and create your own herbarium? A collection of dried plant specimens, herbariums can take many forms, and we propose a poster for your wall. Your specimens will start out bright and colorful but will fade to a glorious sepia over time as they are exposed to the elements.

You will need:

  • freshly-picked plant or flower cuttings (I love to use roadside weeds)
  • paper — printer paper, tissue paper or blotting paper will all work
  • large, hardcover book
  • tweezers
  • large piece of white cardboard
  • craft glue (like Elmer’s)
  • paintbrush
  • white tape
  • pen
  • acrylic matte varnish (optional)

Method:

  • Break your cuttings down into small parts. If you have picked an inflorescence (a cluster of flowers), try breaking it down into the individual flowers as the results will often be better than when you try to press a large cutting.
  • Open a page of your book and place a piece of paper inside. If you are using tissue paper, use several sheets at a time.
  • Arrange your flowers and leaves on the paper so that none of them overlap and there is a little space between each. Placing flowers face down helps them to press flat.
  • Carefully lay another piece of paper on top and close the book. Repeat this process on another page of the book, making sure there is a good chunk of pages between each group of cuttings. Continue until all your cuttings are sandwiched between the book.
  • Place your book underneath a stack of other books and leave for a week. Don’t sneak any peeks in the meantime or you could ruin the process! If after a week there is still any moisture in any of your cuttings, replace the paper and leave for another week.
  • Once your flowers and leaves are pressed, carefully remove them from the pressing paper with your fingers or tweezers. They will be very delicate!
  • Arrange your specimens on the piece of card in neat rows. The bottoms of the stems should all line up.
  • Once you’re happy with your arrangement, dip your paintbrush in the glue and carefully paint the back of each specimen, then press it down in place on the cardboard.
  • Once the glue is dry you can finish your herbarium with a coating of acrylic matte varnish to protect it from handling if you like.
  • If you know the names of any of your specimens you can add them to the poster for a more scientific look, a la Carl Linnaeus. Write the genus and/or species name on a piece of white tape and stick it down across the stem of each plant.

Your specimens will fade over time and develop a sepia tint. Try to keep your poster away from direct sunlight if you want to slow this process, or just embrace the beauty of brown!