Bulletin 12 - November 1980: Hints on Collecting Grasses

Hints on Collecting Grasses

What to collect: We are naturally interested in uncommon grasses or specimens from new or unusual localities; but we also welcome common grasses from overseas, provided they are really good specimens suitable for critical taxonomic study. Groups of specimens chosen to show the range of variation of a species over a small area, or in different habitats, are especially valuable. Seeds are also very welcome, as they enable us to carry out cytological investigations.

How to collect: Specimens should be laid out as neatly as possible, and pressed flat between sheets of paper 10.25 by 16.5 in a plant press. A special absorbent drying paper is best, but several sheets of newspaper folded in half are quite satisfactory. Grasses dry very quickly and seldom give trouble, but it is best to change the papers every day or so - specimens dried too slowly tend to go moldy, or at least to shed their spikelets. The following points should be noted:

  1. Get the whole plant, especially the rootstock as it is often most important to know whether it is annual or perennial, rhizomatous, stoloniferous or tufted, etc. If the plant is so large that this is impossible, then note the height, growth habit, and etc. on the label.
  2. Fold tall plants zigzag fashion to fit the drying paper.
  3. Sterile specimens are usually unidentifiable; those with very immature flowers, or so old that the florets are mostly shed, are almost as worthless. Bamboos, with rarely flower, are an exception; collect a leafy shoot, culm sheath, and a piece of culm; note height, and whether rhizomatous or clumped.
  4. If possible, get more than one specimen, as duplicates are eagerly sought by other herbaria. When collecting duplicates, do not stuff in a big handful and hope for the best, for it is most difficult to disentangle once it becomes dry and brittle. Instead, lay the duplicates out between separate sheets of drying paper as carefully as time allows.

How to label: If your specimen is to be of any scientific value, a properly written label is essential. Some prefer to write labels and insert them with the specimens on the spot; others tie number tags on the specimens, and write their collecting data in a notebook from which labels can be prepared at leisure. The latter is preferable as there is less chance of losing the notes. Note the following points:

  1. Locality. The more exact, the better but please mention the nearest large town as trying to locate obscure villages on maps of a strange country is a most thankless task.
  2. Description. Don't bother about features that are self evident from the specimen, but record peculiarities of growth or coloring that may not be apparent in the dried specimen.
  3. Habitat. Most important, particularly if the plant is confined to a specialized habitat such as swamps or deep shade. Even if it is not, it is very helpful to have some indication as to whether the specimen is likely to be a robust plant from a favorable site, or vice versa.
  4. Collector's name and number. The specimen will be referred to in future by your name and collecting number, so give each specimen (or set of duplicates) a different number. Simply start at 1 and carry on in numerical sequence ad infinitum.

How to dispatch

  1. Lay each specimen loose in a newspaper folder. Do not stick the specimens down with Sellotape.
  2. Make a pile of the newspaper folders, put a piece of stiff cardboard top and bottom, and tie tightly. Specimens are seldom harmed by tying too tightly, but are easily ruined if they shake loose in transit.
  3. Make a brown paper parcel, and send by post.
Royal Botanic Gardens
22 August 1966


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