Herbariums – Fernery Projects Leisurely Activities for Children and Adults
If you are interested in preserving plants, in the shape of dried flowers, leaves, and even seedpods, you may want to preserve them for posterity in what is known as a herbarium. In olden days, it was called a Hortus Siccus – and since ancient times, gardeners and botanists kept looking for ways and means in which they could preserve flowers, and plants in a dried condition, for a long time.
These herbariums were found in the East, where the Chinese knew how to manufacture paper, more than 3,000 years ago. These plants were placed between paper and pressed and dried. It was only when people in Europe got to know about paper, about 800 years ago, apart from using this for writing manuscripts, they also began to preserve plants between sheets of paper, especially when Linnaeus began his own way of classifying plants and so brought the science of taxonomy to the Latin speaking world of Western scholars.
And that is why the men went collecting, all over the globe, bringing back samples of flowers, leaves, and other parts of the plants, which they dried in wooden presses. If they were blessed with an artistic talent, they would do a little bit of painting of that sample, or records, but this painting and drawing was left to the women of the house because that was supposed to be an aristocratic talent, which the middle-class adopted in the 18th – 19th century.
When we were in College, getting ready to collect our Degrees in Science, we had to make a herbarium of which there were at least one or two plants, of which we had learned while studying the morphology, physiology, characteristics, and taxonomic characteristics of 75 families.
The Potato and the Crucifer family plants were easy to obtain, because that area was agriculture based and all we had to do was go to the nearest farm, gather a Solanaceae leaf and flower and a cruciferous healthy specimen of either mustard, or other Brassica family cruciferous plants.
But when it came to the mimosa – bottlebrush family, that poor little plant! There was just one bottlebrush tree in our college, and there were 275 students, in the science faculty, every year spanning over three years and nine Class Sections – First-Year, Second-Year, and Third-Year. And every student wanted a bottlebrush flower and leaf.
So we being really mean types, used to wait until our Final Year, and if we did not have any of the samples of the plants needed to complete our herbarium, we would commandeer the herbarium of a junior Frosh, doing unto them, what had been done unto us by our Seniors!
Starting Your Herbarium
So you start your herbarium with some really thick and absorbent writing paper which is unruled. One square foot dimensions are going to be quite adequate.
An herbarium always has the finished product stuck in it. That is why you will need to press the flowers and leaves before hand.
I wrote two books, on how you can press leaves and flowers and dry them, with instructions on desiccating agents and traditional drying methods.
Adding Mosses to Your Herbarium
Having spent my childhood and youth in the mountains, and rarely coming to the sea, I did not know that mosses could be found on the rocks, by the seashore. But that is because I had not associated the idea of mosses are going to grow anywhere, where the atmosphere is muggy, there is plenty of water and there is someplace on which mosses can grow.
These mosses can be collected, the water squeezed out of them, and they can be placed on a piece of paper, spread out in the shade and left to dry in their own sweet time. All you have to do is see that they are not crushed or crumbled. The nicest thing about mosses is that all you have to do is pick up a piece of dried moss, and put it in a bowl of lukewarm water. And within a couple of hours, the moss is going to rejuvenate itself, in its original color and form. But you have to be careful that the water is not very warm. Also, the soaking should not be for a very long time.
If the moss is over soaked, it is going to break up into little pieces and there you are, all your effort of collecting them on the mountains or by the seaside has gone to waste and ruin and fallen to pieces, literally and figuratively.
This book has given you plenty of information on how you can make your own herbarium, as a pleasant activity in which you are going to preserve your plants which you have dried. Along with that, you are going to be motivated to make your own microgarden, full of tiny plants, ferns, and mosses.
Some of the most beautiful mosses are found in Virginia, in the forests, if you have the inclination to search for them. They are found on rock surfaces, sides of water ponds, or if you are lucky, growing on your old fence, along with a large variety of lichens. Stick these lichens and mosses over your flowerpots with a little bit of putty, covering the external brown surface of the pots especially if they are made of clay.
Moss can be placed all over the surface of some unsightly soil, around your plants. My aunt has some award-winning bonsais, and once a judge was asked why she was given preferential treatment because another competitor considered her bonsai plants to be as old and in as perfect a condition as Mrs. R’s plants.
And the judge told her very kindly and softly, “Ma’am, the moss which has been planted around the bonsais’ is as old as the plant itself. That gives the plant its value. Your plant is I admit, much better looking, and trained than her plant is, but you added just this little bit of your own touch, before putting this plant on for display. You scooped up handfuls of fresh moss, and laid it all around the plant, during the past couple of days. So you can see the contrast between an old plant and its new not so aesthetically pleasing bed of moss. You could have given her a run for her money, if you had not added that little bit extra and instead had left your specimen as it was.”
So if you are lucky enough to be exhibiting your little fernery in a garden exhibition, sometimes somewhere, leave it as it is, and do not add a little bit of this and a little bit of that, hoping that those extra touches are going to gain you points in the eyes of the judges!
Here is one last point. When you are sticking lichen on the surface of earthenware pots, use putty. Do not use the gummed tragacanth gel. The putty is going to harden as time goes by, thus fixing the lichen and the moss to the surface in a natural manner.
A friend of mine places all her papers with the specimens attached in a plastic cover, one cover for each page. This is excellent for reviewing and viewing, but not for continuous moving about of those pages. Also, I have noted that plastic covers have the bad habit of sticking to any surface, and also they get wet and muggy in a humid atmosphere.
I want my herbarium to be dry, so I leave it as it is stuck on thick paper in different colors, for my viewing pleasure and possibly a piece of history left for posterity in the times to come.
Live Long and Prosper!