Wednesday 25 March 2020

Family Herbariums

During this strange time I thought I'd write about a family herbarium project I've come across which might give you inspiration for an on-going project. You could start it this spring even within our currently restricted horizons.

Whilst researching a talk for a local history society I remembered a pressed flower collection a Radnorshire Wildlife Trust volunteer had made with her mother when she was a girl.  Sue Arthur kindly agreed to meet with me and tell me more about this collection.

Her family had a small farm just outside Llanyre in Radnorshire and during the 1960s she and her Mum had pressed and preserved some 120 species of flowers which were found on their land. They even feature some rarer species such as a small twig of Genista anglica (En) Petty Whin (Cym) Cracheithin which, though commoner then, is now considered near threatened nationally, probably owing to loss of habitat. The collection mostly includes widespread and familiar species though.

Petty Whin or Genista anglica collected in the 1960s by Sue & still well preserved some 60 years later

What is particularly lovely about this collection is that Sue has carried on the tradition with both own daughter and helped her daughter and grandchild with a further edition, making 3 generations of volumes. Sue also admits that it is probably because of this collection that she has become a long-term volunteer on local nature reserves.

This accords with the research of Wandersee & Schussler (2001) whose research showed that having a plant mentor in one's life makes a pivotal difference on whether one notices, appreciates or seeks to understand plants. So starting a similar collection in the coming weeks could forge a lifetime's connection with plants.

Pressing plants is easy to do - a carefully constructed sandwich of kitchen roll, paper and heavy books will work well enough. Alternatively, you can easily make a flower press if you have two squares of solid ply and four long bolts with wing nuts. You will also need several cardboard inserts and kitchen towel to sandwich the species in. The only slightly tricky part is making sure the four holes in the bottom piece of ply align with those on the top piece. Drill the bottom holes first, slot the bolts in, and mark the point where they touch the top piece of ply. You should drill the second set of holes on the marks. Children can be co-opted into making the cardboard inserts squares, and decorating the top of the press.

Bear in mind the BSBI code of conduct when collecting wildflowers, which you can download here. Do not collect specimens on nature reserves and only collect1 specimen if you can see at least 20 others nearby. It is probably best to avoid collecting any kind of orchid, both due to their relative rarity and the disappointingly dark and shrivelled specimen that usually results.

However that should still give leave you plenty of scope to start a family tradition, which can be preserved for a surprisingly long time as these photos show.

The yellow page from Sue's collection with the colours still remarkably fresh after 60 years 

Musk Mallow from Sue's collection

To end I'll note that this is my last post as Wales Officer though I may continue to contribute to this blog from time to time in the funding interim. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has encouraged and supported me in the role. 

Barbara Brown March 2020