Sunday, 7 August 2011

Pressing plants

Weevils feed on plants, with many species being very picky about the plants they eat. These host interactions are very important for understanding the ecology of both the weevils and the plants. When collecting therefore, it is important that the plants from which weevils have been collected are identified and noted. Therefore, as a weevil guy, it is important that I have a fair understanding of plant identification.

A key aspect of the process is knowing the proper way to collect, preserve and label plant specimens. Searching the internet has revealed good guides on the University of Florida Herbarium webpage and a PDF produced by the Herb Society of America.

It's not too arduous—pressing plant material can be done by placing the material under a few big books. Much more important is knowing what to put on the label. Plant specimens tend to be mounted on large (A3) sheets of paper, giving a lot of space to write pertinent information. Therefore, major additional categories from that on insect labels include its frequency (is it rare, common, or something in between?), and details of the plant's height, growth habit and description of aspects of the plant that disappear when pressed (e.g. colour of flowers, smell and sap). There's also the space and ability to provide exact locality data and more detailed habitat information than is possible with insect labels.

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