Week 1 Laboratory

Personal Plant Collection

<Lab Schedule> <Next Lab> click here to get label template in Word or in fillable pdf 

An original collection of 25 dried, pressed and identified plant specimens is required from each student. This collection is due near the end of the semester (Friday, December 8, evening) and is required to pass the course. The lab instructor will grade the collection on the basis of (1) correctness of identification, (2) proper preparation of material (especially presence of flowers or fruits; pressing; and drying), (3) adequate labeling, and (4) 5 mounted herbarium specimens (from your collection or the Student Herbarium backlog.

The collections should include only wild plants - native, introduced, and weeds - but not cultivated plants such as campus trees and shrubs, garden flowers, etc. Do not collect in city, county, or state parks. Do not collect on University of Wisconsin campus, including the Arboretum. Collecting in these places require special permits, without which fines can be issued. Practice plant conservation in your collecting! Do not dig up entire plants, especially if you are unsure of whether the species is rare, endangered, or threatened. Become acquainted with the enclosed DNR publication that lists these plant species. Be careful of plants is certain communities under current stewardship or study (most prairies, including roadside remnants.

The collection can represent any 25 separate flowering plant species, but must include one representative from at least 6 of the following 12 families (with some examples given of each):

 Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

 Queen Anne's-lace, wild parsley

 Asteraceae (Compositae)

 aster, goldenrod, sunflower

 Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)

 mustard, dame's rocket, peppergrass


 campion, soapwort, pink


 sedge, bulrush

 Fabaceae (Leguminosae)

 clover, hog peanut, tick-trefoil

 Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

 mint, bergamot, skullcap

 Poaceae (Gramineae)

 bluestem, Indian grass, panic grass


 smartweed, dock


 buttercup, anemone, columbine

 Rosaceae  wild rose, agrimony, cherry, apple


 bittersweet, horse-nettle, jimson-weed, ground cherry


Or, instead, the collection can represent 25 separate flowering plant species, but must include at least 10 species from any one family. Use the course texts in order to become familiar with these families. Each student's collection must be your own personal collection made this year specifically for this course. The collection will not be returned but will be used if possible to build up and maintain the student herbarium in the lab.

Important (!) Scientific names that will be placed on the labels for each specimen (species, genus, family) must follow the most current nomenclature (use of names). You will find differing names (synonyms) for species (and families!) depending on what book or online web site (e.g., Wisflora, Michigan Flora) you use to identify your species. Please use the Field Manual of Michigan Flora and/or its website for this most current nomenclature. It is your responsibility to use the most current species name and family name for your labels. Warning: a significant proportion of our Wisconsin flora will have had species (or genus, family) name changes since publication of the several manuals available in the systematics lab.


Guide to Making Scientifically Acceptable and Useful Plant Specimens

[see Dr. James Smith's "Ethics of Plant Collecting"]

Read Chapter 17 – Plant Collecting and Documentation – in Simpson, 2010 (pp. 627-633) for a very good description of plant collecting and its importance. Read also Chapter 18 – Herbaria and Data Information Systems – in Simpson, 2010 (pp. 637-645) for a review of the importance, function, and use of herbarium specimens and herbaria (plant collection museum). Your collections may be accessioned into the UW Student Herbarium or Wisconsin State Herbarium in Birge Hall.

1. Plants should be collected in flower or fruit. Specimens without these reproductive organs are termed "sterile", and are not worth collecting.

2. For small herbs, the entire plant should be collected. For professional collectors, the underground parts are also collected. For the purposes of this course, do not destroy the underground portion whenever feasible. For large herbs, a part of the stem with attached leaves plus the inflorescence can make up the sample.

3. For woody plants, branches or twigs bearing leaves and flowers (fruits) are sampled; leaves should be padded with extra paper, so the large twigs do not cause air-pockets in the press while the leaves are drying.

4. Collections should be plentiful enough to nearly fill a folded newspaper sheet (except for small plants that are rare at the place where they were found; in such cases this should be explained on your label). The leaves and other plant tissue should be spread out, before drying, to form a single layer as much as possible.

Pressing the Plants

A plant press is constructed out of 2 sheets of plywood or masonite (12 x 18 inches) as backing, layers of corrugated cardboard (corrugations run cross-wise, not lengthwise), and with two layers of blotters between the cardboards. The press is kept tightly closed by two straps or ropes. The plants are pressed within folded newspapers which are individually placed between the two layers of blotters. The newspaper must be small enough to fit within the plywood backing and cardboard layers. Ideally, one torn sheet of newspaper (ca 23 x 14 inches) is folded in half crosswise (11 x 14 inches). Presses will be supplied to each student and must be returned to the lab instructor when the collection is handed in.


Pressing procedures

1. All parts should be free of dirt before they are put into the press.

2. Unwanted parts, dead leaves, extra leaves, etc., should be trimmed off before pressing.

3. Plant parts should be arranged so there is as little overlap as possible; stems should be bent sharply and neatly to fit in the paper, not curved or twisted.

4. Plants should not be layered or massed together within the pressing papers. Leaves lying next to woody twigs should be padded with folded strips of newspaper, to make a tight, full press.

5. If plant is too large to place in a single fold of newspaper, the plant may be divided into 2 or more sections, each pressed separately and indicated with the collection number and the Roman numeral I, II, etc. (e.g., Sytsma 5040-I & Sytsma 5040-II).

6. A field notebook should be kept, in which all collections are numbered and all locality data and other notes are written down. The collection number for each plant should be written, as well, on the newspaper sheet in which it is pressed.


Drying procedures

It is important that the specimens be thoroughly dried but not burned. This can be done by placing the plant press over a heat source; heater vent, fan-driven space heater, radiator, light bulbs, etc. Driers are provided in the lab. Succulent or wet specimens should have the blotters changed as needed to prevent molding. Press straps should be tightened from time to time during the drying process, to keep specimens from wrinkling.


Labels: click here to get label template in Word or fillable pdf

Notes should be taken in a field notebook at the time the collection is made (not done from memory). Each plant specimen (that is, a particular species collected at a given time and place) is given a separate number in the book. This field information is later transferred to labels that are handed in with the specimens. Labels must be typed or hand-written with India ink or rapidiograph pen. Blank Wisconsin county labels or other state labels will be provided by the lab instructor.

Locality: Designate this by county and site, accurately enough so that someone else could find the exact place later. Mileage along a highway, distance from a town or from some geographical feature like a mountain or lake is a way of expressing this. Township, range, and section are mandatory (township maps for Wisconsin are available in lab). Alternatively, latitude/longitude coordinates may be used instead of township/range information.

Habitat: Designate this in general terms, describing the nature of the site where the plant grew. Examples are: roadside banks, open pasture, boggy meadow, shrubby thicket, shaded woods, rock slide, river bank, cliff, sand dune, etc. Important factors in plant distribution are the amount of light at the site, available moisture, nature of the soil, density of other plant growth, steepness of slope, etc.

Species name: The correct name (according to the Michigan Flora) should include the genus, specific epithet, and authority. The family name should be also indicated.

Other necessary data: Designate the form of the plant (herb, shrub, tree, height, etc.) if this cannot be told from your specimen. Give the original flower color, if this was changed during drying. Optional information includes the names of other species growing with this one, the soil type, the plant community, abundance of the species, altitude above sea level, etc. The date of the collection, and its number, are musts.

Example of a typical label:

Oenothera clelandii Wagner

Cleland's evening primrose

WISCONSIN, Iowa Co. Dry prairie along RR track,
N of Helena, 3/4 mi. N on Hwy C from Hwy 14.
T8N, R4E, NE 1/4 Sec 16

43°10'23.99"N 90° 1'17.05"W

Scattered individuals, to 1 m high, corolla yellow.
ing with Froelichia floridana, Desmodium sp.

21 Sept. 1985
Sytsma 5013


How plants are to be handed in to the instructor:

Each specimen is kept in its original pressing paper (or put into a clean new paper), the finished label is inserted loose along with the specimen, and the collection placed in a folder and handed in. Five of your specimens (or other unmounted specimens from the Student Herbarium backlog provided by your instructor) and the labels will be mounted onto herbarium paper - more information on this will be provided by the lab instructor. On the outside of the bundle, under the string, place a sheet of paper with your name on it and a list of the family names, genera and species of all the plants you are handing in at the time. Never put "Scotch tape" or glue on your specimens or collecting papers.


Desirable tools and equipment for collecting plants:

Hand-lens or pocket magnifier; about 10X magnification
A 15 cm. metric ruler and dissecting tools
Field notebook and pencil


Final thoughts! - [see Dr. James Smith's "Famous Last Words"]

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