Students learned the process of plant pressing at a Natural History workshop. Photo by Aidan D'Anna

Natural History Club teaches plant pressing

On Oct. 25, students scoured the Estate Gardens hunting for the perfect plant specimen. Were they conducting research for a biology lab? No, these students were out collecting flowers, leaves and roots for the Natural History Club’s first plant pressing workshop of the semester. The workshop, held in the Aubrey R. Watzek Library classroom, was facilitated by Hanna Machiorlete ’20 and Alex Olsen ’20 who are the co-leaders of the club and student curators of the Lewis & Clark herbarium. 

Located in the yellow lab in the basement of the Biology-Psychology building, the herbarium boasts a collection of over 1,200 specimens from three states and three countries, donated by more than 50 contributors. The herbarium is proud to say that it is almost entirely student-run. 

The workshop began with a brief presentation from Olsen and Machiorlete describing the history of the LC herbarium, as well as a quick explanation of how plants can function in an artistic context. 

“We put on this event because it’s really just an open expression,” Olsen said.  “It’s always really exciting to see what people come up with.” 

After their brief history lesson, the co-leaders taught the 25 eager students the five basic steps of plant pressing.

First, collect from something common enough that taking the specimen will not be harmful to the species as a whole. The plant is not worth using as a specimen if the species has a possibility of being endangered.

Second, get permission to collect from whomever owns the land the specimen inhabits. At LC, students have permission to collect whatever plants, leaves and roots they desire.

Third, place the specimens in the plant press pallet in between layers of newspaper and cardboard, alternating newspaper cardboard plants until the press seems full, then close and tighten the press with two leather straps. These are what hold the specimens in place.

Fourth, after the plants are fully dried (about a week), take them out of the press and mount them on thin glass with glue and non-acidic paper. The Natural History Club is hosting a second workshop on Nov. 1 to teach students how to mount the plants they pressed in the first workshop.

Fifth, if you are intending to use your specimen for scientific observation, now is the time for labeling, cataloging and organizing with respect to other specimens in the herbarium or in your own collection.

In putting on this event, Olsen and Machiorlete hoped to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the practice. 

“We love to put on this event because it is science and it is biology, but it also has a really artistic side,” Olsen said. 

The Natural History Club, whose members describe themselves as “general nature enthusiasts,”  hosts club and outreach events twice a month. They aim to demonstrate that scientific practices are not limited to only spending hours in a lab. Rather they can be conducted out in nature too, and you can end up with something beautiful that lasts forever. After 20 minutes spent on the Estate Gardens harvesting the specimens for their future creations, the novice curators were as excited as Olsen and Machiorlete, and all will return for the next workshop to mount their hard work.

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