In a basement below a cafeteria, researchers and scientists gather in what is the Intermountain Herbarium. It is a little used Utah State University campus resource that serves an important purpose.
“It’s essentially a museum of plant specimens," said Paul Wolf, director of the herbarium. "In the same way as an archeological museum or an animal museum contains specimens, exactly the same with an herbarium.”
The herbarium is used by scientists to help address a common problem: misidentification of the plant they are trying to study. Plant identification books and microscopes are on hand at the herbarium which houses plant specimens used by researchers to prove that they are studying the right plant. Learning how to properly care for and preserve plants is a must. That’s why eight plant scientists from Utah State University are here today.
Spring flowers are carefully sandwiched into a plant press with layers of cardboard and blotter paper. They are then laid on a drying rack, where fans help dehydrate the flowers.
“Ideally you’ll get something that’s flowering or fruiting in some way. Try to have them laid out as neatly as possible,” said Sylvia Kinosian, a graduate researcher at USU. “If you have multiple leaves, make sure you’re pressing some with the top of the leaf up and some with the bottom of the leaf up. They can have different characters on the two leaf sides. Somehow you can get the flowers to lay flat, and have one up and one down, that’s another good thing to have.”
In our arid Utah climate, plant specimens are quick to dry as long as they have good air circulation. After the plants are dried, they are glued on acid-free paper and carefully labeled and organized. If you’re interested in seeing plant specimens close up, the Intermountain Herbarium is open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. They have other workshops open to the public.
“We run various citizen workshops and events," said Wolf. "We try to post them as regularly as possible on our website. The collections manager runs several field excursions identifying spring plants."