Wednesday 26 September – Third day in the Botany Department at the NHM

Figure 1: First step on my plant mounting journey is lifting out the capsule contents so they don’t get crushed in the press.

Mounting plant specimens has been something I really wanted to have experience of as part of this traineeship and today I got my chance!  Felipe Dominguez-Santana, one of the NHM’s plant mounters, had the dubious honour of showing me the ropes (or rather plants) so that I could have a go myself later.

The specimens that Felipe and I were mounting were the same members of the Solanaceae family from Peru that Ranee and I had laid out for mounting on Tuesday.

Figure 2: ‘Gluing’ the label onto the sheet.

Felipe showed me the correct way of applying the glue (rather PVA: there definitely wasn’t any animals hurt in the making of this adhesive) and when it is best to remove capsule contents to avoid them being crushed in the press.

Figure 3: Applying PVA to the reverse of the specimen.

Figure 4: Removing any PVA residue from the sheet.

Figure 5: Applying extra adhesive to the underside of leaves if necessary.

The sheets are covered with wax paper (so it doesn’t stick) and a cushion is laid on top ready for pressing.  The sheets (usually around three at a time) are then put in the old-fashioned book press and left for around five to ten minutes.

Figure 6: Laying the wax sheet over the specimen.

Figure 7: Into the press it goes for around 5 to 10 minutes.

Figure 8: Will it have survived?

Figure 9: Yes!

Figure 10: Attaching the capsule.

The presses are really effective; but I must admit I occasionally squirmed upon hearing the crunch of a specimen that had become separated from the paper it was glued on.

The final step was to attach straps to parts of the plant which could be prone to becoming detached from the sheet such as thick stems.

Figure 11: Applying straps for extra support.

If all this was too hard to follow then there’s a short video and further information on the NHM website were Felipe explains the process!

Figure 12: Here’s one I made earlier!

Following my plant mounting adventure, I spent the rest of the morning session in the company of Jovita, Ranee, Jonathan and Edgley sorting some plant specimens into their correct families.  This was a great learning experience for me; and led to some heated debates about what the correct plant families were in each case!

The afternoon session was spent scanning herbarium specimens for the Global Plants Initiative (GPI).  This is an international project focused on digitization of previously unpublished botanical material.  It aims to make these images available to access on JSTOR.

Label information and images of type specimens (see ‘Type specimens’ blog post) are digitalised in order to make this information accessible to all.  This will hopefully save on unnecessary loan requests (see Thursday’s blog post).

Figure 13: One of the type specimens I scanned using the HerbScan machine (note the red border round the folder: a coloured border is a dead giveaway you are dealing with a type specimen).

The HerbScan scanners are not your average scanning equipment.  They’re huge and take quite a while to form the required 600 dpi resolution images.

Figure 14: One of the HerbScan machines.

Occasionally, things got a little tricky.  For example two sides needed to be scanned and then merged into one if the reverse side had useful information on it.  Or the capsule needed to be first scanned closed before the open capsule with contents was scanned and superimposed on top of it.  Oh, and of course sometimes it was tricky to work out what the plant was or where it was from!

I think I negotiated the graphology lesson successfully and was looking forward (but feeling a little bit sad at the same time) to my last day at the NHM!


About Trainee Curator

I will be writing a blog about the next twelve months spent as a trainee biological curator based at Manchester Museum.
This entry was posted in Trainee's diary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Wednesday 26 September – Third day in the Botany Department at the NHM

  1. Dina Newton-Edwards says:


  2. Pingback: Plant mounting | Trainee Biological Curator

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