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Build a herbarium

What is a herbarium?

A herbarium is a collection of dried plant specimens that bear witness to the existence of plant species at different stages in their life cycles, in diverse locations on the planet, and at precise moments in human history. In this manner, each specimen possesses intrinsic heuristic and heritage values and cannot be replaced. The idea of collecting plants goes back to the first stumblings in botany. At that remote time, plants were primarily destined to be used for medicinal purposes. The botanists therefore only collected living plants which they cultivated in a garden: this was the herbarium vivum or living herbarium.

With the coming of the sciences, an interest in vegetation began to develop that was beyond their strict medicinal usages. The number of known plants increased and their geographic origins diversified. Paralleling this, the number of species that were difficult to cultivate in their gardens increased. It therefore became more practical to press and dry the plants and mount them on paper in order to preserve them for a long time. Thus the herbarium siccum or dry herbarium was born. The practice of accumulating specimens and building facilities to preserve them became more widespread and herbariums were constructed in all of the centers where science was flourishing. The oldest herbariums, which were spared from wars, fires, insects, and other plagues, are found in Florence and Bologne in Italy, as well as in Leiden in the Netherlands. They date back to the 16th century.

The herbarium siccum, despite its popularity, did not completely replace the herbarium vivum. Indeed, they have persisted up to the present in the form of botanical gardens which, while still playing an important scientific role, have had their original mission to heal diseases be replaced by one emphasizing their aesthetic value. Today, the term “herbarium” applies only to the herbarium siccum.

A herbarium specimen is above all a witness to the existence of a plant species at a specific location at a given moment of time. In regards to the profound natural and anthropogenic modifications which have occurred and are still occurring to the vegetation cover of our planet, herbariums are extremely important places of scientific and cultural heritage. Herbariums constitute an important part of our “vegetation memory”. The other part of this memory is preserved in published scientific works.

In addition to their heritage value, herbariums are important teaching and research tools for several disciplines including botany, taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology, and biogeography. In order to play an essential role in these domains, a herbarium must possess three fundamental characteristics: it must assemble the greatest number of species possible, include all of the ontogenical development stages for each species, and contain a large number of specimens for each species.

A herbarium is firstly a place to preserve the diverse vegetation of a given region and secondly a tool to identify plants, at any stage of development, by comparing them with the specimens in the collection. The latter is certainly the most common usage of herbariums, as it is this fundamental starting point in plant knowledge that attracts amateurs, students, professors, and professionals in the plant sciences to herbaria.

How-to guid to buiding a herbarium

Label templates

The Louis-Marie Herbarium offers this how-to guide to anyone who may be interested in making a herbarium.

Template - Mac Office2016 (

Template - PC Office365 PC (
Microsoft Excel et Word files


The collection of specimens needs to be done with respect for the private property and for the laws governing the parks, nature reserves and preservation zones. Furthermore, the collector must be aware that in order to protect the biodiversity of Quebec, to date, 78 taxa are protected by the law. The list of species is available on the government of Quebec website:

Espèces floristiques menacées ou vulnérables

Harvesting equipment

  • Weed puller
  • Clipper or pocket knife
  • Notebook (waterproof, optional)
  • Shatchel and newspapers or plastic bags
  • Magnifying glass
  • Permanent markers and pencils
  • GPS unit or Maps
  • Rock Pick or hammer (for crustaceous lichens)


Herbaceous plants
  • Collect a good looking specimen, as complete as possible, with the vegetative and reproductive organs such the roots or other subterreanean organs, stalk, leaves and flowers or fruits to facilitate the identification
  • Pay attention when sampling subterranean organs. Structures such as rhizomes, tubers or turions may be delicate or easy to miss.
  • Note characters that may change after drying, such as petal colour
Trees and shurbs
  • Collect a branchlet mesuring around 30 cm long and bearing leaves, flowers or fruits
  • For plants for the genus Rubus and Rosa : we recommend you pick a current year shoot (sterile) and a flowering or fruiting stalk to help with identification
  • Choose a pure colony with individuals bearing reproductive organs. Pick a sample with a maximum thickness of 2 cm. Wrap the crustaceous samples, especially the crusteacous ground lichens with loose soil, in paper towels to protect them during transport.
  • Choose a pure colony with individuals bearing reproductive organs (sporophytes). Pick a sample with a maximum thickness of 2 cm.
  • Collect a good looking mature specimen and immediately note the diagnostic characters that could change or disappear after drying, such as the shape, color and size as well as it's substrat.
Seaweed and aquatic plants
  • Collect a complete specimen, including the subterreanean organs.
  • Prioritize specimens bearing reproductive organs.

Pressing and drying

The pressing and drying method will vary according to the different plant group. The pressing itself consists of placing a specimen in between newspaper sheets, spreading it in its natural standing position, and pressing it flat to dry so it can ultimately be mounted on a cardstock. While spreading the sample, make sure that both sides of the leaves are visible, and turn the flowers or fruits in various directions so that every sides will be visible. On hot and sunny days, it's important to quickly press the specimens or to keep the plastics bags containing the samples in the shade.

Pressing and Drying Equipment

  • Two polyester straps with sliding buckles, a minimum of 10 corrugated cardboards with flute corrugations running the short dimension, a minimum of 10 1-cm-thick foam sheets mesuring 30 x 45 cm, absorbant paper such as newspaper and 2 hardwood frames mesuring 30 x 45 cm.
  • Rectangular, metallic or wooden dryer box to accomodate a 47 × 40 × 60 cm plant press.
  • Two 60 W porcelain light fixture attached at mid-height inside the dryer box

presse herbier


Mounting method will vary according to the different plant group. Once mounted, vouchers should be stored in cabinets away from light, and at a constant air humidity ranging from 30 to 50%. Mesures to prevent against insect pests damages should also be taken. In these conditions, the dried plant specimens should keep for centuries.

Vascular Plants and Seaweeds
  • Specimens are secured to 29 x 42 cm white cardstocks (A3, tabloid or 11 x 17 in format) using archival grade gummed linen tape (available for purchase at the Herbarium).
  • Label is placed at the bottom right corner of the voucher using white craft glue.
  • Avoid masking diagnostic organs
  • Avoid using adhesive tape such as masking tape or Scotch tape. The glue on these kind of tapes quickly disintegrates
  • Keep any loose pieces in a small envelope secured on the same voucher


exemple carton


Specimens are secured to 29 x 42 cm white cardstocks (A3, tabloid or 11 x 17 in format) using archival grade gummed linen tape. The label is placed at the bottom right corner.

Herbaceous and woody plants
  • Spread leaves of specimen so that both sides are shown
  • Fold long samples in a V or Z shape to make it fit on a standard herbarium cardstock (29 × 42 cm). Very large samples can be spread on two separate sheets and binded together with staples.
Seaweeds and aquatic plants
  • Colllect specimens in plastic bags
  • Flot plant over a submerged sheet of paper or cardstock in a basin filled with clean water. Gently spread the specimen before bringing the sheet up and out of the water. Once out of water, cover the plant and wet paper sheet with wax paper and dry in a regular press (the wax paper helps to avoid the plant from sticking to the newspaper in the press)

  • Spread the sample in a natural postion. Make sure to show both side of the leaves, especially the underside of fertile leaves.

Lichens and bryophytes
  • Leave samples to air-dry in brown paper bags on a table or on stacked-wire shelving over a low heat-source
  • Leave samples to air-dry in brown paper bags

In the field, leave the press in full sun, or on the luggage rack of a car, taking care of aligning corrugation flute to allow maximum air flow through the press.

In the laboratory, use a low heat-source, such as two 60 W bulbs in a plant drier. The press is built by stacking corrugated cardboards and foam (i.e., cardboard-foam-plant in newspaper-cardboard). Fasten Compress between two hardwood board and fasten with the straps. Drying can take up to 48 hours.

Fleshy plants, seaweeds and aquatic plants take more time to dry. Rotating the press everyday over the dryer should help getting a more uniform drying. Once dry, remove the specimens from the press and store in a dry place, away from direct light and insect predation. A fast and effective drying will help preserve the plants' original colors. It is however preferable to avoid overheating the specimen. Do not exceed a tempertature equivalent to that of two 60 W light bulbs.


The following informations noted in the field, in a notebook, will later help to make a label for the herbarium specimen.

Collection number
  • Give a unique and sequential number to each sample collected.
  • Date of collection
Plant name
  • Plant name if known or a temporary name for later identification
  • Describe the location, beginning with the wider area (county, municipality) and following with a more specific description of the collection site (road name, river), taking care of noting any essential element that would allow to easily find the exact location where the sample was collected.
  • Note the altitude and the precise geographic coordinates if a GPS unit is available
  • Describe the ecology of the collection site : birch-balsam fir forest, peatland, grassland, meadow, field.
  • Abundance of the collected species
  • Sociability of the species: colony or isolated individuals, number of specimen in the colony, list of companion plants
  • Caractères physiques ou édaphiques : humidité, nature du sol, pente, drainage, exposition, etc.
  • Physical environement and soil description: humidity, sol type, slope, drainage, exposition, etc.
  • Characters that will disappear after drying: size, growing habit, plant height (for trees and shrubs), flower color
  • Sketches and photos of the plant or the habitat that could help complet the information later on.
  • Name of the person(s) who collected the sample

Herbarium Label

L'étiquette qui accompagne chaque spécimen d’herbier est imprimée sur du papier de The label should be printed on acid-free paper and contain the following information:

  • Country, province or geographical (Canada, Québec, Laurentides Wildlife Reserve)
  • Identification : atin name of species with authorities for each taxonomic ranks (i.e., Epilobium ciliatum Rafinesque subsp. watsonii (Barbey) Hoch & P.H. Raven)
  • Exact location : Describe the location from a wide-area to the exact site location, including altitude and coordinates.
  • Habitat : Describe the site ecolgical and physical environement as well as the soil type.
  • Date of collection
  • Collection number
  • Collector(s) name (Leg.)
  • Identificator(s) name (Det.)

exemple étiquette


  • he specimens are stored in sealed zipper plastic bags.
  • The label can be stored inside the bag with the sample.

exemple champignons

Lichens and bryophytes

  • The bryophyte specimens are stored in 14 x 10 cm white paper envelope. Lichen specimens are placed in the same type of envelope on a small tissu covered cardboard to help protect the sample.
  • The label is affixed on the outside envelope flap using regular craft glue.

exemple lichens