COLLECTING SPECIMENS

For general reading, couched in pleasant, nontechnical language, a little book, British Wild Flowers Considered in Relation to Insects, written by the late Lord Avebury, would be hard to beat. Although it was first published in the early eighties of last century, the information supplied is still sufficiently reliable. A second-hand copy may often be found very cheaply. With this and an inexpensive modern textbook as his guides, the amateur may hope to prosecute his studies of plant life to some purpose. Three good textbooks are Botany for Beginners by Ernest Evans (MacMillan), The Study of Plants, by T. W. Woodhead (Clarendon Press) and A Text-book of Botany by Amy F. M. Johnson (Allman). At the same time, he will be well advised to set about forming a collection of dried plants, which not only gives zest to a country ramble, but serves to fix facts in the memory almost automatically. Ask any botanist, and he will tell you that he has learnt more from the plants that he has gathered and dissected with his own hands than from all the floras that he has ever read!

On every excursion a note-book should be carried—and used. As for collecting apparatus, the more important items include a good-sized metal box, or vasculum, fitted with a strap for carrying; a pair of scissors, a knife, a trowel, a pocket lens, and perhaps a few pill-boxes and corked tubes. A small pair of secateurs will also be found useful at times. Specimens packed carefully in the vasculum will keep fresh for some hours, pending attention. Take typical examples of each

species, with leaves, flowers, fruits, and a portion of the root wherever this is practicable; in the case of the larger plants —trees, shrubs and so forth—cuttings selected to show the more important features must suffice. Twigs, hard fruits and the like may be dried by exposure to the sun, then labelled, and stored in boxes for reference.

To prepare herbaceous plants for the cabinet, first arrange them carefully between several thicknesses of blotting-paper sandwiched between two pieces of smooth board. Strap these firmly together, and increase the pressure gradually every other day for some weeks until the specimens are quite dry. They can then be mounted in folders of stout paper by means of good gum or fish-glue. Finally, each sheet should be docketed with the name of the plant, and such particulars relating to habitat, times of flowering, etc., as may be deemed desirable. Whatever method of storing is adopted, the specimens should be grouped in accordance with their natural affinities; otherwise confusion will soon result.

Flowers pressed in the above way usually lose most of their colour. An alternative method is to place the freshly gathered sprays between layers of cotton-wool lightly bound together with a book-strap between sheets of perforated zinc or wire-gauze. The necessary outfit may be obtained from dealers in natural history apparatus. If the process of drying is not hurried, the specimens retain much of their fresh beauty. But, not being pressed flat, they must be stored in shallow boxes or drawers, and thus take up much space. The same objection applies to specimens dried in a tray of silver sand poured gradually round the sprays while they are fresh. The results are excellent; but a really large collection preserved in this manner would call for a special building in which to house it!

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