What is the best way to collect plant specimens?

I have an insect collection currently and want to start collecting some plants too, but I don’t know the best way to collect them. Does anyone have any advice?


The typical way to collect plant specimens is to press them and dry them in a 12" x 18" plant press (relatively easy to build-- there are instructions available online) and then mount them to standard-sized acid-free paper with glue, and also include a label with the ID, GPS coordinates, etc. This is a lot of work, though, and takes a lot of space. If there is a herbarium near you (probably at a university), you might get in touch with them and see if they’d let you go collecting with one of their botanists, teach you how to make really good specimens, possibly let you use some of their equipment (like a plant drier), and then let you donate the specimens once you’d learned the plants to your satisfaction. If you did that, you could store your specimens unmounted in newspaper while you were using them, and then let the herbarium take care of mounting them and providing long term storage.
For a less troublesome approach, many people use a smaller press and just laminate or tape their pressed specimens to heavy 8.5"x11" paper (maybe card stock?). This would let you have a personal reference collection to work with, but the specimens probably won’t end up being of a quality that would later make them desirable collections for a museum or university.


I think m_whitson’s advice is very good, but you might reconsider the idea of a plant collection. It’s a lot less labor-intensive to work on getting good at taking ID-quality photos of plants and having your “collection” on iNaturalist. That way you’re not disturbing any plant populations, your “collection” is more attractive than dried pressed specimens, and you learn plenty. And, you can get the iNaturalist community to help identify your “collection,” which you can’t do with pressed plants.


I used a mini-press for a few years 30 yrs ago and mounted the pressed specimens on 5x8 inch file cards for which there are commercially available file boxes. Takes less space. I’ve added images of some of these specimens to iNat.



You can put specimens up on iNat provided they were collected by you and the date is set to when you collected them.


In general I wouldn’t recommend collection unless you knew what you wanted to collect and why. I go between weeds and more obscure native species. Having a voucher for something like that in an herbarium is a good idea. The private collections we’ve received at the herbarium I worked at were from experts in some way or another that focused on something specific, like ferns for example.


Hi tcriley

Its quite exciting to hear that you’d like to start collecting plant specimens! As someone who has alot of trial and error experience with this, I’d be glad to give you a few pointers

I guess the most important thing to first consider is: Do you want to keep this collection of yours private (i.e only for your personal viewing), or would you like to contribute your specimens to a local herbarium? I would strongly recommend going with the latter, as I’m sure you would like your collections to contribute to the collective pool of scientific knowledge on the flora in your area, rather than gathering dust on a shelf in your room

Secondly, despite what some may say here, collecting and cataloguing plant specimens for herbarium supplementation (provided that this is done according to best practice and following guidelines) will certainly NOT endanger the population of the species you wish to collect. It is in fact better to collect one specimen of a species which grows only in a tennis-court sized patch of hilltop and have science know about the viridity and weaknesses of said population, than to witness such an occurence and leave the population to the wims of human development and destruction.

For detailed tips and guidelines on how best to take specimens from the field and how to process, prepare, mount and label them, you can visit this website:


If you have any other queries on your new undertaking, please don’t hesitate to send me a private message

Warmest regards :slightly_smiling_face: :v:


Agreed, the environmental cost of making specimens is trivial in most cases (don’t go out collecting rare orchids and stuff). The benefits much outweigh the cost. The time commitment is large though.


Keep in mind a lot of states, parks, and lands (I know US, not sure where you are specifically) have laws regarding plant collections - and including for invertebrates (since you mentioned those too). I also know Spain has permit requirement laws as does the UK as well. So I agree with everyone saying to get involved on the science side of things such as herbariums, if anything to make sure correct protocols and permits are in place :) In general, collections don’t harm the environment when done correctly; but there are rules & permit processes for a reason, and being involved in the scientific community means the knowledge will benefit many people!


Yes, here in the US, written permission or research permits are usually required for plant collecting unless you just do it on your own property. All our students who go out collecting plants for research projects and herbarium collections first have to get a permit.


Most of my collections these days come from the sides of the road (along state/county roads, not running through parks), I figure if it’s fair game for the DOT crews with mowers, it’s safe for me to collect.


We also need permits to collect from the wild. The volunteers who stock the ‘what’s in bloom’ gate display at national parks also need a permit. Was a very strange experience to help out one week. In Silvermine with secateurs picking flowers!

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I love and hate being out with botanists, they are so excited about everything, but then when we find a single specimen of a rare plant they collect it into an envelope before I can get a picture…


This isn’t New Jersey botanists then. Collections of rare things aren’t done here unless there’s a good population of it that can support 3 going missing, and that’s for folks with permits to do so. Our state botanist has even put pictures on specimens. The gall :upside_down_face:. And I personally collect mostly weeds. You need to hang with botanists that are also conservationists!


If you want to make pressed plant collections, a botanist showed me a trick several years ago–use an old phone book (remember those?) as a plant press. You can press many specimens simultaneously in a phone book. After drying, specimens can be removed for examination, and, my favorite, imaging on a flatbed scanner.
I have found pressed specimens to be valuable for a few tricky things, like oak species leaves in my area. There are several in my area that can be told apart best by close examination of a flattened specimen. Some characters can be difficult to visualize in a living leaf. Of course, one should be aware of collecting permissions, regulations, and conservation considerations.

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At the age of about six a half century ago I was presented with a beautifully laid out collection of pressed flowers by an aged aunt and was so proud. I eventually became a biologist and looked back at this book only to find a mega-rare flower in there that just shocked me anyone would think of collecting it. Fortunately that flower is no longer so vulnerable but it certainly was at the time. My point being that you have to ask yourself if you really know the status of the plants you are taking and in these days of easy access to high-end digital photography if it is truly necessary other than for a personal vanity collection which to me is hard to justify. Take photos and move along is my practice,


If you’re conducting a study in an area and need to characterize the flora, especially grasses and non-flowering forbs, a pressed specimen will often be superior to just a photo when it’s time to do identification or when consulting a botanist. There’s still a place for physical specimens.


Surely you can just ask them to delay for a minute while you get your photo?
In any event, collections are the backbone of healthy plant taxonomy, and ergo, the descriptive studies which follow. It simply has to be done, and as of yet there is absolutely NO evidence that such collection poses an existential threat to even the smallest and most fragile populations

See my reply above to elias

There is simply no evidence to support your statement

Things like phonebooks only work for woody, fibrous leaved species
For plants with alot more moisture in their tissues, one needs a proper plant press utilizing cushioned compaction to allow for the escape of mediums which would otherwise corrode or rot the specimen