OBJECT OF THE MONTH - October, 2008

Tools of the Trade: Botanical Collecting

Pruners (A), notebook (B), pencil (C), and hand lens (D).

The University of Colorado Museum Herbarium is a repository for approximately half a million specimens of vascular plants, mosses, and lichens. These specimens are the products of plant explorations in our own backyard and throughout the world. The specimens contribute to discovering, documenting, and assessing global plant diversity and distribution. The herbarium houses specimens collected from over a hundred years ago to just a few weeks ago.

However, regardless of when and where specimens were collected, the tools used have remained nearly the same over the last century. Compared to many other scientific endeavors, plant exploration and biodiversity cataloging require only the few simple and inexpensive tools listed below.
Hand lens. Botanists have this handy tool dangling from a lanyard around their necks ready to inspect flowers and hairs at a moment's notice. Inspecting and recording features of a living plant is often invaluable to later identification.
Hori-hori (digging tool). The roots of small herbaceous plants are collected using a digging tool such as the hori-hori. Roots may help with later identification.
Pruner (cutting tool). Twigs of shrubs and trees are cut using a pruner or knife to reduce damage to the plant from collecting.
Collecting bags. Today, many botanists collect plants in plastic bags, which are easily carried and stored until the plants are removed and pressed. In the 1890s, botanists did not have the convenience of plastic bags but used something similar called the vasculum (see photo). Other botanists collect and press plants immediately using a field press.
Notebook and pencil. As you gaze across a lovely meadow of plants, ready to pluck and press, other essential tools are a notebook and pencil to record information about the plant and describe the surrounding habitat.
Plant Press. Once collected, plants are pressed to preserve their features for long term use. These pressed plants fill the herbarium and provide morphological, molecular, and collection data to scientists.
Too simple, you say?
For tool lovers, you are not limited to the simple tools listed above to pursue plant collecting. Depending on where and what plants are collected, botanists use GPS devices, laptops or PDAs, climbing gear, and, less commonly, helium balloons.