Arboretum Paths: Preserving plant specimens: A fun summer project!

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

By Pat Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum
MSU Extension Service

Do you have a young plant appreciator in your family? You might enjoy this fun summer project – learning how to create your very own pressed “herbarium specimens”.

First, you need a plant press!. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive. Mississippi State University student Deanna Lyle once showed me the petite and portable handmade plant press she had constructed. It was small enough to be tucked into her pocket or backpack, and only the size of a postcard. She had assembled the press using materials you may have on hand – cardboard, newspaper, and a few rubber bands.

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Even an old phone book can be used to press plants. If you want something a bit larger and more durable, the Internet abounds with instructions for building plant presses. However, keep in mind these can be quite heavy to carry on a hike into the field!

Perhaps you’ve seen plant specimens that have been framed and used as wall art in interior design magazines, or for sale (for a pretty penny!) in home decorator catalogs. Ferns, because of their attractive shapes, are popular. If you make your own pressed plant specimens, these can be used to create “art work”, for gift-giving, or unique decorations for your home for a fraction of catalog prices.

Used frames may be obtained very inexpensively at thrift stores and painted to suit your home decor. If the plants you use have a special meaning, perhaps collected during a memorable vacation or from a relative’s property, that is all the better. You may end up creating some treasured family heirlooms!

This summer, the Arboretum’s summer intern, Brady Dunaway, is planning to collect plant specimens “from the field”. Brady will be a senior this fall at Mississippi State University. Smithdale, Mississippi is his hometown, and he is majoring in Environmental Science in Agricultural Systems, a relatively new major in the department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

During the school year, Brady is a student worker in the department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, and he propagates plants of the Black Belt Prairie for restoration projects, using locally collected seeds. Brady would like to pursue a Master’s degree at MSU, and hopes to enter a career in environmental consultation and habitat restoration.

This summer, Brady will also be helping to create new trail signs for the Arboretum’s Swamp Forest and Quaking Bog exhibits, collecting and propagating Mississippi milkweed seed for our native milkweed garden trials, and helping to grow plants for our fall native plant sale on October 21 and 22.

The Arboretum has a small herbarium containing over 2,000 plant specimens that were collected by Dr. Sidney McDaniel, who conducted the inventory of the existing plants at our interpretive site and associated natural areas in the mid-1980’s. We also have a second collection of herbarium specimens, donated to the Crosby Arboretum by former University of South Mississippi professor Dr. Richard Moore.

To identify the plants you collect, visit a website such as Southeastern Flora ( Simply the color and a few characteristics about the unknown plant specimen to get a list of potential plants to pick from.

Learn about what kind of information is traditionally included on herbarium specimens. You may wish to include some similar information on your own specimen as well, for example, the location, Latin and common name, date collected, and so forth. For examples, see pressed specimens on a website such as SERNEC, the Southeast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The site is a collection of images and data from over two hundred herbaria in 14 states in the Southeastern U.S., and spans 150 years of botanical information.

To visit the website, you can just enter the acronym “SERNEC” in a search engine. It’s quite exciting to view these specimens from your armchair at close range! One perk is that you don’t have to endure the smell of mothballs, which are often used to preserve herbarium collections.

For more information, see or call 601-799-2311. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).