Plant Pressing: Doing as Botanist Kate Furbish Did

A botanist recently visited Bowdoin’s Hatch Library to show students and staff how to collect and press plant specimens for an herbarium, which is a collection of preserved plants used for scientific study. Drying plants for herbaria dates back to the 16th century and is still an important practice in the field of botany.

Melissa Cullina, director of education at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, began her demonstration by leading the small group outside to properly collect a specimen. Kneeling down in a weedy patch next to the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center, she dug up a flowering Heart-leaved Aster, leaving it roots intact. Returning inside, she went through the steps of preserving the aster in a plant press. For the final step, she mounted a dried fern on archival paper and affixed a label containing the specimen’s date of collection, location, and habitat.

Cullina also spoke about the woman who had inspired the workshop in the first place: Kate Furbish. Furbish, who lived in Brunswick in the late 19th century and early 20th century, collected and preserved more than 8,000 Maine plants in her lifetime. An artist as well as a scientist, Furbish painted her flowers in exacting detail. She eventually donated her volumes of plant guides to Bowdoin.

Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives has partnered with Rowman & Littlefield to publish a two-volume set of Furbish paintings and sketches. The books contain full-sized reproductions of Furbish’s work.

The pressing workshop was part of the library’s programming for its current exhibition, “Botanizing America: Citizens, Scientists, and the Quest for a National Identity,” on view through January 17, 2017, on the second floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

The plants mounted by students during Cullina’s workshop at Bowdoin were donated to the Parker Cleaveland Herbarium, a collection compiled by Parker Cleaveland, a 19th-century Bowdoin faculty member. His plants are housed at the Hodgdon Herbarium at the University of New Hampshire.

One student at Cullina’s workshop did not practice with the specimens Cullina had brought. Instead, Taylor Choate ’19 brought her own collection of dried ferns to mount for her Behavioral Ecology and Population Biology class.

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