Connecting Students to Citizen Science and Curated Collections

Students Contributing to Our Understanding of Global Biodiversity

VI. Collecting Specimens

Plants need to be collected in a way that allows proper identification of the specimen. This means if possible, collect root, shoot, and leaf material along with flowers and fruit. For woody specimens, you need a representative stem cutting with leaves and flowers or fruit.

Some tips for collecting plants:

  • Before you collect your specimen, photograph the plant in situ. Systematists use images to capture visual information that will be lost in a pressed specimens, such as color. For you, images are especially important because you must have them to upload your observation to iNaturalist. Make sure to take multiple photographs to capture the identifying features of the plant, e.g. leaves, flowers, roots, close-up, from a distance, etc. You will get better at this as you gain more experience collecting.
  • You must collect all of your own samples. You cannot use samples collected by friends, family, or classmates.
  • Permits are required for collecting in city, county, state, and national parks and forests. Permission is required for collecting on private land. Do not collect plants for this project from these areas unless you have the appropriate permissions.
  • Do not collect from a plant that is obviously unhealthy. Nor should you collect a branch that will have a negative impact on the plant or the immediate environment. If collecting along a trail, or otherwise highly traveled area, collect on the side of the plant away from the trail to limit aesthetic impacts. DO NOT collect specimens from very small populations (1 to only a few individual plants). A good general rule is to never collect more than either 5% of a population of annual plants or 5% of reproductive structures on any single shrub or tree, and do not collect at all unless you see at least 20 plants.
  • For woody specimens, always use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut your samples. This will limit damage to the plant’s branches and improve the quality of your specimen.
  • Remember that sun vs. shade leaves may exhibit different morphological characteristics, so be sure that your specimen reflects variation exhibited in your plant.
  • Collected specimens can be kept temporarily in a plastic bag. Keep the bag closed and specimens moist and out of the sun to avoid premature wilting. Specimens will remain fresh in a closed bag for several hours. Refrigerated bags of specimens may keep for 1-2 days before pressing.
  • If collecting at multiple localities during one collecting trip, 1) place each group of specimens (that correspond to one locality) in separate plastic bags, 2) label each bag with a brief locality description to help you match each bag to your notebook entry when you go to press your specimens, and 3) make separate notebook entries for each collection location in your field notebook.
  • If more than one specimen is collected at a single locality on the same date, the data for geographic locality, date of collection, and habitat/ecological conditions for these specimens can be recorded once in your field notebook, since these data are the same for each specimen. The collector numbers and descriptions of each individual specimen should immediately follow the collecting event information in your notebook.