How to press plants like a botanist

ready to press

In May, my yard has been filled with Lily of the Valley. Perhaps this is why I felt so cavelier about pulling these flowers up in bunches for my latest project.

As a botany graduate student, I used to go plant collecting, pressing and saving weeds and specimens to learn and remember. That’s when I acquired this plant press and filled the layers with wild collected specimens of  Gnapthalium, Lespezeda, and Verbascum.

Only recently did I think to use my plant press to preserve specimens from my garden. Since I hadn’t used the press in years, I ordered new supplies: cardboard ventilators to go in between specimens, white paper blotters to help absorb moisture as the plant dries out, and new straps to pull the flat layers of the plant press tight. (That’s why the blotters look so fresh and clean in the photo.)

plant press

Once my new plant press supplies arrived, I pulled up some lily of the valley and got started. To press them, each plant should go inside a few layers of newspaper, and any notes about the plant or collection date can be scrawled on the paper. I wanted these specimens to be decorative, so I tried to spread the leaves out a little before closing the newspaper and placing it between newspaper and blotter layers.

pressing.plant

Each specimen, inside its folded newspaper gets stacked on top of a white blotter layer and then on a cardboard ventilator. These layers – cardboard, blotter, plant in newspaper then get stacked up like a layer cake and placed between the wooden ends of the plant press.

pressed

With my stack of plants and papers organized in my press, I put the straps around it, pressed down on the top board, and tightened the buckles. Admittedly, there was a crunching sound – not something I remember from my earlier days studying botany, and something that made me wince.

pressed lily of the valley

A week later, I opened the press up and found this, beautifully pressed specimen. Not sure why but it was a thrill. I’ll let these pressed plants dry a few more weeks and then mount them, maybe frame them. We’ll see….

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