Preparing samples for identification

The Queensland Herbarium has been in operation since 1859 and has identified a variety of specimens from all over Queensland. The identification service it offers requires good representative samples. Plant samples must be carefully pressed and dried, and accompanied by appropriate information. There are many plants which have similar characteristics and correct preparation of appropriate plant samples will ensure that the identification received is an accurate one. [Editor's note, 2011: it would be a good idea to check with the Herbarium if they still provide this service.]

It is not often possible to identify a plant specimen from leaves alone, so other representative portions must be collected. What constitutes an adequate specimen varies with the type of plant concerned.

Grasses, sedges and small herbaceous plants
Grasses, sedges or small herbaceous plants should be collected, complete with roots, basal leaves, stems and flowers and/or seed heads. Bulky plants such as tussocky grasses and large herbs may be divided and a portion sent, provided this portion includes the basal shoots and a complete flowering stem. Long stems can be folded back and forth before pressing. Plants which have underground runners, tubers, bulbs or stems should be sent with at least some of these portions still attached.

Shrubs, trees and larger herbaceous plants
Specimens of these plants should consist of a portion of branch or stem up to 30 cm long. Leaves, flowers, and/or fruits (both flowers and fruits if possible) should be provided still attached to the stem.

An appropriate sample of a eucalypt includes buds, fruit, and mature leaves. A description of the bark is also necessary. A photograph of the base of the tree showing the bark characteristics can be very useful if buds or fruits are scarce.

When collecting ferns, make sure the rhizome (root-like structure) is attached to the frond. With tree ferns, include the scales or hairs at the base of the frond stalk. These are essential for identification.

When plants have large flowers or leaves, it is important to describe the dimensions of the whole flower or leaf and collect the tips and base of each.

Preparation of samples
Before being sent for identification, plant samples should be pressed between sheets of newspaper and dried under moderate pressure. During humid weather and when pressing succulent or water plants, the paper should be changed each day. In dry areas, there is less urgency to change paper, although samples should be checked daily. Fresh plant material should not be sent for identification in plastic bags. Such samples deteriorate quickly, become mouldy and make identification impossible.

Always collect at least two samples of each plant specimen. Make sure both samples are labelled with a corresponding identification numbers (often the collector's first and last initial and a number, JM1, JM2). Samples sent away to be identified are not normally returned; the numbers provided are quoted in the reply. This way the correct name can be transferred onto the corresponding specimen kept by you.

Information to accompany the sample
When a plant is collected, it is necessary for those identifying it (and also useful for the collector's records) to include a few notes on:

Collector name.
Date of collection.
Location, including distance and direction from the nearest town or property and name of creek or paddock where applicable.
Habitat, including type of country, soil type and associated dominant vegetation.

Plant description. It is helpful to describe anything which cannot be seen from the pressed sample such as:

the plant's growth habit (tree, grass, vine, herb) and approximate height,
flower colour (flowers often fade or change colour when dried),
bark description of trees.

Sending samples
If immediate replies are required for collections of 20 specimens or more, prior arrangements need to be made with the Herbarium. A fee may be charged under certain circumstances or if large numbers of specimens are submitted. This is necessary since resources for such work are limited.

Dried samples, each in a sheet of newspaper, should be packed flat between cardboard. A covering letter stating the sender's name and address and what information is required must be included in the package and sent to:

Queensland Herbarium Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha, Mt Coot-tha Road, TOOWONG QLD 4066

We would like to thank the DPI for their kind permission to reproduce this article.

Jenny Milson, Queensland Herbarium,
Pasture Agronomist, Queensland Beef Industry Institute, Longreach.

DATE: April 2001

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