Mounting Botanical Specimens

One of the things I mentioned in my last post was a trip to the James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity to pick up specimens that needed to be mounted. Many of you have expressed interest in this task so I figured I would document and discuss some of the process.

Basic set up

Mounting for me at home is fairly easy since I have a studio space. Above you see the basic set up: the plant, a tub of slightly watered down glue, some brushes, a small bowl of water, and to the right a piece of paper on cardboard. To my left out of view is a box of a few handy tools such as small scissors, tweezers, linen tape, some tissues, and a stiff brush for cleaning up dirt. And, of course, the essential radio. Now I know that my artist friends are going to ask what type of glue? We use Ph neutral PVA made by Lineco.

making decisions

So here is the first specimen. Opening the paper up is like opening a gift because I never know what is going to be inside. This is a grass and, as you can see, there are several pieces here and they will not all fit on the paper so decisions have to be made. The most important part of any specimen is the flowers and fruit so I will choose the piece that has the most of those structures. There are also lots of root clumps so it will be important to show that. All the specimens contain the stems and some leaves.

placing the specimen

Here is the piece I decided should be mounted. It shows a good clump of roots, three flowering/fruiting structures, and leaves and stems. I put it on the paper to make sure it fits and then I will need to brush the dirt off the paper and remove the dirt from the roots. It is very important when deciding the place and position of the plant to remember that other things will be put on the paper such as the scientific label, accessioning number, and other information needed for the database. So space is needed in the lower right and left corners and the upper left corner because that is where this information will be placed.

cleaned roots and pouch

Above you will see a stiff brush that was used to brush the dry mud off the specimen’s root clump. There were also some lovely flowering/fruiting structures on the other plants not selected so I cut off two of those and made a side pouch which will also be mounted with the plant. If possible, it is always good to include some additional flowering/fruit structures in a protective pouch because, especially in this type of specimen, they can fall off the mounted specimen if not careful. I have circled the roots and additional structures in red so they stand out easily against the busy newspaper background.

Glue is applied carefully to the larger parts of the specimen and then carefully laid on the paper. The paper used is also a very particular paper especially made for this purpose. It is an archival paper measuring 11.5″ x 16.5 inches.

mounted specimen: Secale cereale

Above is the finished specimen. Notice the pouch off to the side and the scientific label. The label always goes on the bottom right and contains information such as the name of the plant, where it was collected, a description of the surroundings, the date, and who collected the specimen.

Sambucus

Sometimes I get very lucky and a specimen is pretty much ready just the way it was pressed like this Sambucus. These flowers are very delicate and, if you look for the red circles, you will see some flowers have fallen off. I will collect these and make a pouch for them as was done with the grass.

mounted Sambucus

Here is the mounted Sambucus. I marked the pouch with a red x (not really, just in this presentation) and there is also a red arrow pointing to something that I call a bridge though I am sure there is a more technical name. These are made out of archival linen tape. You cut pieces very thinly then wet them ever so slightly with water (this is one of the functions of the small bowl of water with the small brush. The other function is to clean up excess glue that may have gotten on the plant in the process of mounting it). The bridge is to anchor a part of the plant that will not stick to the paper with the glue, such as a woody stem. If you look at the leaf above the pouch you will see that it looks lighter. That is because this is the other side of the leaf. When mounting, you want to try to show both sides so it is always a good idea to turn one leaf over if none have naturally positioned themselves that way.

weighted specimen

The last thing to show is what happens after the plant is mounted. It is covered with wax paper and small weights, which are actually pieces of hardware. Weights are placed to make sure the plant stays put while the glue sets. The plants sit out for a least a day then will be accessioned into the collection.

10 thoughts on “Mounting Botanical Specimens

  1. I think what makes it easy is the way my space is laid out. I have a high table and, even though they gave me the supplies, I do have some of the things handy because they are essentially bookmaking tools.

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  2. Wow! Balancing people’s checking accounts is much, much easier … requires far less brain power and dexterity. Thank you for sharing the process. Now I have pictures in my mind, tying into your words.

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    • They are files in metal cabinets by family name. When a plant is reclassified into a new family, that is a whole coordinated dance to move everything!

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  3. Hi Claudia, Yes, they are stored in metal cabinets by family name. Sometimes the plant is reclassified and that requires a shifting of the files. I say “sometimes” but truly I think there were a few months where we moved plants at least 3 times!

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