Assembling a Seed Herbarium

Containers for the Seed Specimens

It's now time to put the herbarium together. We have our identified and collected specimens. The first question is: what are we going to put them in?

We need containers and an arrangement that makes this a working collection that can be used for our identification and comparison purposes. Herbariums vary from the simple and inexpensive to the elaborate.

They can be as simple as consisting of paper coin envelopes in a shoebox. The paper coin envelopes can have the identification of the specimen and other identifying characteristics written on them. These can be arranged by family, then genera, and species within the shoebox.

A couple of drawbacks to this method is that the seeds must be taken out to be observed and the paper envelopes can be breeched by insects that will eat the seed. One can take this a step further and place the seed in plastic, "ziplock" coin envelopes. These allow for observation without removing the seed.

The coin envelopes can then be attached to a note card which will contain the identity and characteristics of the seed. Both of these methods have the advantage of taking up little space.

On the elaborate side, the seed herbarium can become a show piece and be placed in it's own cabinet. Herbariums such as this have the specimens in glass vials and arranged in drawers by family. Each vial has a label containing the identity of the species and other information. Vials vary in size and type. Some have cork stoppers, others have screw-caps for enclosures. I prefer the screw-caps.

Labels and Pertinent Information

What information should be included on the specimen label? At minimum, the label should include:

  • 1. Plant family name (and number if phylogenically arranged)
  • 2. Genera name
  • 3. Species name
  • 4. Authority that named the species

The plant family determines where the specimen will be grouped within the phylogenic order. The genus and species give the specimen its identity. And the authority is who named it. As names change, so will the authority. Having the authority will also make it easier to find synonyms for previous name changes.

Additional information can be included with the specimen. This information may include:

  • 1. Where collected and year of collection
  • 2. Donated by and from: (for those specimens that were given to you)
  • 3. identification characteristics and hints.

Arranging Your Seed Herbarium

The easiest means to arrange the seed herbarium is to place it in alphabetical order. Families are arranged alphabetically. Genera within the family are then placed in alphabetical order. And then the species within each genera arranged by the alphabet. This arrangement makes it easy to retrieve specimens but gives no clue to the relationship between the specimen and other species, genera, or families.

The more scientific means to arrange a seed herbarium is phylogenically, or in order from least complex families and species to more complex. This arrangements also places families into gymnosperms, dicotyledonous, and monocotyledonous angiosperms.

At first this arrangement may seem harder to navigate, but by becoming familiar with this classification system, navigation through the herbarium becomes as easy as through the alphabetical arrangement.

In the process, you become more familiar with the plant kingdom and the relationships between plant families. This ordering can be found in any botanical book on plant families. At the moment, the "Cronquist System" of ordering is in vogue. Those with a botanical background usually use this method as it is what they've taught in botanical classes.

One last thought: A seed herbarium is a standardized collection of seed specimens that has a practical value to the seed analyst in aiding identification and for visual comparison of seeds. It can also be a rewarding past time collecting, identifying, and arranging seed specimens. The seed herbarium is what one makes of it.

If you need to know how to properly collect your seed samples see: Seed Collecting