The Curator’s Toolbox

Collection Management
1. Specimen Identification Services
2. Herbaria Curation Methods
3. How to Package Specimens?
4. Which Insecticides for Herbaria?
5. How to Ship Specimens to EU countries?
6. I need funding? – Funding for Universities
7. How to Press Bulky Plants?
8. What Kind of Boom Microscopes?
9. Bryophyte Storage Methods

Information Technology
10. Creating a Virtual Herbarium
11. How to Make Interactive Keys
12. Using Digital Plant Images as Specimens


1. Specimen Identification Services

The following is a thread derived and modified from the [Herbaria] Listserv. The original submission of this question and subsequent compilation of responses was conducted by Lowell E. Urbatsch, Louisiana State University, LA, USA.

Summary of plant identification service charges:

Virtually all respondents indicated that they charge for identification services when large numbers of specimens are involved or when the work was being done for commercial companies. In a couple of instances regulations of one sort or another prohibited doing this. Most respondents indicated that for such services were free to individuals, colleagues, etc. when few specimens (usually fewer than ca. 5) were involved. On a per specimen basis, changes mostly ranged from $5 to $15.00. Hourly changes mostly ranged from $40 to $125.00 per hour. Some herbaria levied specific, lower rates for use of their herbaria by non-staff personnel. Excerpts (15) from many of the numerous responses follow:

Response #1: The client may choose to pay any of the three following rates:

1) $15/specimen
2) $50/hour
3) $300/day

The client agrees to confer with Š concerning specimens that cannot be identified within 30 minutes. If the client agrees for Š to continue work on a specimen above 30 minutes to obtain a more precise identification, the work will be charged at $50/hour. If the client wishes to have the specimen sent to a specialist for identification, a flat fee of $100/specimen will be charged.

Response #2: Often nothing. But if it is a business proposition and depending on the
amount of money that the contractor has, the rate varies from $40 to $80 per hour.

Response #3: Anything over 5 specimens we charge $50.00 an hour for identification. Sometimes in an hour we can do many (if easy) and sometime it can take an hour to do 1 (especially if the sample is bad). My warning is many people do not know how to take a good collection, so it wise to advise them a bit on this and remind them it will save them $ and time in the long run.

Response #4: We have had quite a few people with grants bringing us plants for id. We feel that we should be written into those grants and they should pay for those id’s. The same should hold true for consulting firms. We are still trying to get that set up. At present, we accept no more than five specimens at a time. We do about 1000 id’s per year.

Response #5: If someone wants one or two things identified, we don’t charge. If they have an amount that is going to take more than an hour of my time, then we charge an hourly rate based on my salary, plus 28% overhead for my benefits, plus 15% general overhead that the Š charges for managing revenue accounts.

Response #6: Our — has done a few of these, on a fee per project basis (i.e., neither per hour nor per specimen). This is done as a consultant, outside of her regular work duties at.

Response #7: Plant identification Service. The herbarium staff provides identification services for UGA faculty, extension service personnel, and staff/researchers associated with other governmental agencies. The staff will not furnish identifications for students with collections made for courses but will give guidance on helpful references in the library.

Policy. Please see the herbarium staff and ³Protocols² for plant identification protocol and submission forms.

• Charges for non-departmental projects. Projects/individuals of UGArequiring identification of many specimens by herbarium staff should allocate funds for this purpose in grant proposals or other budgets at the rate of $50.00 per hour (1 hour minimum). Researchers must furnish an account number for billing with submission of the specimen(s).

• Charges for private firms/consultants. For identification or research services by the herbarium staff: $100.00 per hour. Use of the collections by their own staff or by independent consultants: $50.00 perhour. A letter of authorization from the company is required.

Response #8: Yes we now charge for such assistance, including government agencies. We charge $5 per specimen but give a discount of 3 free ones when there’s more than 20. If they want immediate response, then the fee goes up to $8 (usually they don’t). We also charge for DNA analyses but that fee is dependent on the work required. We have had no problems with companies paying the fee.

Response #9: We charge $50/hour, which has been the same for at least 8 years. I had to justify that with the university at one point.

Response #10: As we are a landgrant college with a duty to do plant id for cooperative extension agents who send in things that companies and private individuals give them, we do a lot of free dets through cooperative extension and master gardener programs. We do 5 dets free for people who give them directly to us who are not cooperative extension agents and after that, we charge ca. $70 per hour and the university takes 20% of that.

Response #11: We have charged private firms for plant ID services for the last 8 years. We charged $30/ hr for the last 7 years and decided as of Dec. 06 to raise our rates to $50/ hr which was more in keeping with other herbaria who responded to a similar survey 2 years ago. Let me know if you find out that $50 is in fact no longer the norm as I too have wondered what was appropriate and lord knows we never have enough funds to do what is needed.

Response #12: At — we charge ca. $16.50 per specimen. This is too low, and we are considering increasing the charge. I would charge at least $100 per hour OR your standard consulting rate. The consulting company will make money on your bill by adding a handling fee and will likely not care too much about how much you charge.

Response #13: I charge $40 (to $75) per hour for sedge and fescue identification, or sometimes less for big projects or easier plants. $50 per hour, going to $75 July 1. We set the 50 10 years ago I think. I shall check the rate for a plumber – I figure we should be paid slightly more. The money goes to the herbarium.

Response #14: In most cases the persons have a private interest and I don’t charge. I remember a few cases when the persons offered payment and they had the money for that available in their grants or budgets. E.g. I accepted a offer of 200.- Dollars for 5 lichens, 200.- Dollars for a tropical tree from a timber company and 250.- Dollars from customs office for the identifcation of several tons of Lycopodium clavatum from China. As this Lycopodium is protected the complete container had to be destroyed after my identification. The money went into our laboratory.

Response #15: I’m interested in your survey results. My last job which included field work and all the identification was $125 in 2003, the year I retired from college teaching. Otherwise it was $5 a specimen, if it was for my area of expertise, the midwest. Today, scanned images are so good, there’s no need for mail expense.

2. Herbaria Curation Methods


3. How to Package Specimens?

One responsibility of herbaria personnel is the packaging and shipping of loan material and exchange specimens to other institutions. The shipping of loans and exchanges is necessary but can be damaging to valuable herbarium specimens. Taking appropriate care in packaging specimens will help minimize damage and lengthen the life and value of herbarium specimens.

What follows is an outline of best-practices one may follow when preparing herbarium specimens for shipment. These procedures are generalized for packaging specimens that are shipped within the United States and do not address some of the additional considerations needed when packaging specimens for international shipping. This is only a general outline and adaptations may be necessary according to the established protocols and practices of your respective herbarium.

For Loans or Exchanges:

1. Pull requested loan or exchange material from herbarium cabinets and follow the herbarium protocol for documenting and recording which specimens are being shipped and where.

2. Individually place each herbarium sheet or specimen inside a fold of paper. For unmounted exchange material make sure to include the typed label. Individually wrapped specimens add a layer of padding and catch fragmented plant material that may break loose during shipment. Ideally a species folder or unprinted newspaper is used for this purpose but printed newspaper is also commonly used.

3. Depending on the number and thickness of specimens being packaged, the stack will often appear uneven or lopsided with the folded side being higher than the “open” side of newspaper. This is often more pronounced with unmounted specimens. If necessary, level the stack by rotating some portion of specimens by 180 degrees and restack. A level stack will be much easier to box up later. Sometimes it takes rotating only a few sheets of particularly bulky specimens to achieve a level and balanced stack.

4. Depending on the height of your stack divide the specimens into manageable piles of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm) in height. Place each subdivided pile between two pieces of corrugated cardboard. Using string or cotton binding tape tie the whole bundle on the long dimension in at least two places, usually about 2-3 inches in from the short dimension of the cardboards. Apply some pressure when tying bundles, to snug the specimens, but not too much to damage them.

5. As an added protection, each bundle may be wrapped in brown butcher paper or Kraft-type paper before being placed in a box for shipping. Place completely wrapped bundles in an appropriately sized box, making sure to fill any gaps with packaging peanuts or wadded newspaper to prevent bundles from sliding around inside the box. Insert copies of shipping notices and an extra address label then tape the box securely with strapping tape. Label the outside of the box and it is ready to be sent.

4. Which Insecticides for Herbaria?
The most common method of “fumigation” now is freezing in a home type freezer.  Bundles of specimens are placed in a plastic bag, the bag sealed, and the bundle placed in a chest or upright freezer for several days.  At the end of that time, the bag (sealed) is left at room temp for several days (usually 7-10), to allow any eggs to hatch, then refrozen for 3-4 days, and refiled. If you’ve got a decent-sized freezer, you can do half a case at a

Monitor the collection at least once a month for signs of insects and for “frass” (insect droppings).  The Solanaceae, Lamiaceae (Labiatae) and Asteraceae(Compositae) are particularly good places to look, as those families seem prone to damage.

There are also pheromone traps available for many of the common herbarium pest species; place these in the case or around the case, and you can monitor that way.

*  Here in Miami, and at many other herbaria, ultra-cold freezers are the method of “fumigation”.  We use a small cabinet ultra-cold which is just large enough to hold herbarium sheets, and put the material in for 48-72 hours, if there are no evident infestations.  In bad bug situations, I sometimes leave the specimens in for a week.  Some people recommend freezing for 48 hours, taking the specimens out for 24 hours, and then putting them back in for another 48 hours.  I have not done that, and we have had no bug problems since we started with freezing as our sole means of fumigation. We also use naphthalene flakes in the cabinets, since it is very humid here, and this seems to keep the bugs out.

*  We have a lot of herbarium cabinets in our lab and we generally put PDB (para dichlorobenzene- like mothballs) in them. One of the best things to do is freeze newly acquired stuff (over night in a -20 or a -80 if you have access). Dermestid beetles are big culprits- watch out for them- but freezing takes care of them.

*  We use para-dichlorobenzene (used as moth cakes in closets) in hanger dispensers which work good in the Lane herbarium cabinets with rubber seals around doors.  We get essentially no odor in the lab when the cabinets are closed.

*   If your herbarium has a drying cabinet for specimen preparation (where you put the press with fresh specimens), I recommend putting new specimens in there for a few days to make sure the new specimens are completely dry, and also to heat-kill some of the “critters.”

If you are sure of infestation, one could use a light spray of malathion, but I would do that in a standard chemical exhaust hood in a chem lab.

In the herbarium cabinets, most people put moth balls (paradichlorobenzene) to prevent moth larvae and relatives from feeding on the dried specimens.

*  If seals on doors are good you can’t smell the mothballs until you open them.  If you have a pest problem you may also want to freeze all in a -40C freezer for several days.

5. How to Ship Specimens to EU countries?
Mark your boxes and documents with “dead, dried plant material for scientific use only”. The DEAD part is really important. You don’t need a phytosanitary certificate for herbarium specimens. Clearly state the taxa included in the shipment. If possible, seal your specimens in a bag, and indicate that material has been frozen previous to shipping, and indicate on a label that specimens are sealed and have been frozen.

EU Council directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000 covers the importation of plant products to EU. Plants covered under part M4 require a phytosanitary certificate, but this is only applicable to living plants and their seeds, not dried herbarium specimens. In some cases the translation to local languages might have missed this (this is now being corrected in The Netherlands).

Wood samples still might need a phytosanitary certificate, it depends on the species.

Note that in the US you can’t receive a phytosanitary certificate for herbarium specimens.

References and sources:
EU COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000 on protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community,

6. I need funding? – Funding and Universities
Here’s a few thoughts on herbarium funding at universities, on the eve of yet another round of budget cuts. As hard as it is sometimes, we need to avoid the paranoid thought that someone is out to get herbaria. Herbaria are not the only university units under pressure — so are all other research units and academic departments. Just ask the chair of your music department on campus, for example. Campus politics reminds me of a bunch of people treading water in a pool, each constantly trying to push others under while rising themselves. Not a pleasant scene, but we have to participate to keep afloat.

State funding is dropping off across the board, across campus, everywhere in the country. And we all know that NSF funding had to fight to keep level under the current administration, and while it hopefully will increase soon, it will never be enough to fund more than a fraction of exceptional herbarium projects, never basic herbarium operations. Here’s a thought we need to accept (certainly not agree with, but accept as realists in order to survive): we’ll never again be able to get sufficient support from governmental sources.

This is one of these issues where the maxim “think globally, act locally” applies. Each herbarium (like each academic department facing the same squeeze) has to generate its own justification to survive. University administrators are not particularly biased against herbaria (it gives them way too much credit to assume they know the content and value of all the fields they supervise!) — they care about three things: (1) publications, (2) money raised, and (3) publicity. Any field is fine in their eyes if it has those three things. So each of us needs to do these things, and be sure our administrators find out about everything we do through aggressive educational efforts (e.g., first thing I do when we get a new administrator at some level in the food chain is get them to come for a tour of the herbaria).

1. Publications (including web products, etc.) are a given, that is what we do as academics — my one suggestion here would be to be sure there is a broad view of herbarium-based research on your campus. Cultivate your colleagues. Herbaria are not just for systematics or floristics. Involve ecologists, population geneticists, plant biologists, pollination biologists, even comparative genomicists as collaborators, curators, or associated faculty (we have recent successes in all these areas at UC/JEPS, and it really increases visibility and fund-raising options).

2. Fund-raising is going to be increasingly from private foundations and donors, for all state university units (the very concept of a state-supported university is going extinct, unfortunately). In a way, we at state-supported institutions have been spoiled over the years. Free-standing museums and herbaria have always had to scramble much harder for funding. What is happening now across the country is a trend to make us all free-standing — we must band together more than ever, share ideas, and collaborate. We each need a friends organization, and to get active in development, public outreach, etc. You can build up slowly with small donations and volunteer efforts until your reach a point where you can hire a fund-raiser / outreach coordinator on soft money, then that person can raise more money to pay their own salary plus more…then you’re off and running.

3. Publicity comes hard to many academics, but we all need to seek and encourage it. Cultivate a good relationship with your campus news people, and local writers. Invite them for a visit, take them out to lunch, let them know when something cool happens. For example, the recent news about the use of herbarium specimens from the Consortium of California Herbaria to model the fate of more than 2000 California endemic plants with respect to climate change has gone ballistic with the public, with the help of our campus PR folks (Google News reports 90 newspaper articles and TV stories in the last couple of days). This and similar research can be used to demonstrate how incredibly important, timely, and modern herbarium collections are!

Another maxim in closing: “the best defense is a good offense.” The only way to ensure we aren’t dispensed with is to make ourselves indispensable. Each of us is responsible to try as hard as we can to do this for our own herbarium. Regional and national efforts are important too, but it all starts locally…

7. How to Press Bulky Plants?
(by Dan Pittillo & John Nelson)

Pressing fruits

Thin fruit sections can be prepared for mounting:

1. Watermelon, most cucurbits- Select one no larger than the herbarium sheet, preferably about 9 inches across. Cut perpendicularly halfway between stem and blossom scar a quarter-inch thin section. A thin peel can be cut from the surface for flat section of exocarp. Liberally salt the section and place between two sheets of wax paper. Peel sections need only one sheet of wax paper to prevent sticking. Salt helps draw water out of the section and will help preserve it, accenting the placenta and vascular system. Hopefully a few seeds, young or old, will be exposed upon drying. The section can then be glued to the herbarium sheet after thorough drying.
2. Other juicy fruits such ad Citrus, Poncirus, Maclura, et al. may use this same technique. Fruits such as large grapefruit will require sawtooth blade bread knife to make good sections. Large, prickly or bumpy exocarp fruits may require a bit of testing. Gloves will help with prickles (such as cactus!) or digestive juices (such as Maclura). Best thing, of course, is to pickle fleshy fruits, as long as you have the space for them in jars, but there are the OSHA regulations about storing stuff.
3. Nuts- something like a hickory nut can be thin sectioned with a hack saw. A vice or miter holder (miter helps hold nut by hand and less binding than vice) makes the process easier; it can hold the fruit while it is being sectioned. Parallel cuts about 1/8 inch apart can be made through the desired section direction (either longitudinal or cross). The first cut can be partial, leaving part of the fruit to support the nut in the vice while the second cut is being made. Finally finish one cut, take from vice and free-hand finish the other cut. After drying, the section can be glued to the herbarium sheet or placed in an envelope. Re-closable plastic bags can be used for sections and stapled to the margin of the herbarium sheet.

Whole fruits can be mounted

1. Berries such as juicy blackberry, raspberry, strawberry- ripe fruits spread when pressed but will retain seeds and juice color for a while. Near mature fruits will work better and bulky strawberries may be sectioned and pressed similar to number 2 above.
2. Hexastylis fruits- Tom Wieboldt described a good technique in Chinquapin (2006, vol. 14.3) for preserving shape of fruit. Longitudinally cut in half, ink surfaces of outer calyx and pistil, and print on cotton paper. The halved sections may be press-dried and included with the mounting.
3. Asclepias follicles: green ones can be sliced longitudinally and then pressed. It’s sort of a pain having the seeds start flying everywhere if you are doing a ripe, dehiscing one, but the thing can be secured with a rubber band, pressed, and mounted whole.

Other fleshy plants

1. Bulbs, corms, rhizomes- can be sliced longitudinally before pressing still attached to the stem. Slice through middle and press one side up and other down in pressing. Salt can help with wax paper to dry better.
2. Fleshy stems such as Arisaema, Trillium & other lilies- stripping surface helps in drying but save stripped section with specimen.
3. After initial pressing, remaining succulent parts may be crushed to complete process. This can be as simple as crushing under foot or using a heavy weight to pound gently.

Problem plants

1. Typha is a real problem during drying and fluffing out. The spike can be slipped inside some sort of skinny bag, or a piece of waxed paper carefully glued around/over it on the sheet.
2. Tree ferns and huge plants- usually must be sampled for features. A frond section with sori (or vegetative only) may be selected to fit the herbarium sheet. If possible, maybe thick stems may be pealed or cross-sectioned for surface and anatomical features.

8. What Kind of Boom Microscopes?
(by Tim McDowell, ETSU Herbarium)

The Microscope Store, Wirtz VA.

I’ve just gotten from them a stereomicroscope w/boom stand, and just returned the stand for a shorter one. The longer stand didn’t fit into the
fairly large workspace.

Their website is:

Some stereomicroscopes (zoom 7-45x) I’d suggest are:
Omano OM-2300S-GX4 Zoom Stereo Boom Microscope

Omano OM-2300S-V10 – 7x-45x Stereo, Boom Microscope UPGRADED!

– Microscope: OM-2300S-T Trinocular $729.00

Omano OM-XTL-V10 – 6.5x-45x Stereo, Zoom Inspection Microscope $899.00

And others more expensive. Omana stereoscopes (especially zoom to 45x) have been good.

Some of the above are shown w/trinocular, that is, camera tube. Probably a good idea to have this option in case you get camera outfit and fittings

The other concern is the light. The small ring light provided with these is not bright enough – its a 10w or 12 w LEB ring. We’re now upgrading to much
more expensive and much brighter fiber optic ring light ($575).

Also, I recommend the Barlow lens add-on. It widens the field of view and
makes the microscope sit higher over the specimen. This is more
comfortable, but does reduce the ring-light’s brightness.

Omano 150W Omano Fiber Optic Ring Light Illuminator [FORL-BL] $575.00

Compare these to the stock microscope at the Herbarium Supply Co, which
costs about $2175 with the big light and trinocular head.

We’ve done much business with the Microscope Store in Wirtz VA and they’re
very dependable and have great microscopes at great prices. Talk to Danny,
perhaps he can help you select the scope, light, and boom you want.

Phone for The Microscope Store, Toll-Free: (877) 409-3556

9. Bryophyte Storage Methods
(by Jean Shepard, UC Davis)

Bryophyte packets can be stored flat or upright. If stored flat, they can be organized loose in palm folders. Kim Kersh at UC Berkeley says they borrowed this method from Helsinki by way of Dan Norris. Deb Trock at CAS uses this method also and says they overlap the packets inside the palm folders. Another flat storage scheme involves attaching the packets to mounting sheets and filing them in genus folders. Molly McMullen at Duke says they attach the specimen packets to mounting sheets using a long-armed stapler. The packet is reinforced with a card so it is securely fastened. Using this method, specimens can be moved without destroying the packet; which is not the case if the packets are glued to the sheet. Advantages of all the flat storage methods include easy accommodation of any sized packet, prevention of damage, use of archival materials and storage in standard herbarium cases. Also, packets mounted on herbarium paper or mounted specimens can be interfiled in all the flat storage systems.

Three people described their upright storage systems. All upright storage systems are easily rearranged. Jim Croft at CANB reports they use standard (but large) index card filing cabinets for roughly A6 size cards, 12 drawers in each unit holding three rows of packets or similar footprint boxes. You can see a photo of the system at

Stephen Timme at KSP stores packets in custom corrugated cardboard boxes, outside measurements 6”x17.5.” They appear to be about 5”high. These are housed in standard herbarium cases, two boxes per cubby. He sent a photo which I can email anyone who would like to see it. This is an economical system and has the advantage of fitting standard herbarium cases. Susan Studlar at WVA uses archival drop-front boxes with metal edges from University Products. These boxes measure 17”x12.25”x5” and fit into a standard herbarium case. She uses the top and bottom separately as open boxes, first using archival tape to close the drop-front bottom. You can see the box at the University Products web site A strip of genus folder serves as a lengthwise separator for the two rows of packets. This system uses archival materials, fits standard herbarium cases, and is economical, especially compared with custom archival boxes.

10. Creating a Virtual Herbarium
see How to Build Your Own Virtual Herbarium

11. How to Make Interactive Keys

SLIKS is a small Javascript program that Stinger Guala developed to facilitate the use of interactive keys. SLIKS is written in simple Javascript and distributed under the GNU public license. It runs over the web or locally on your machine. Users can download their own copy or use it from your web site. It runs through the web browser so it is essentially platform independent.

2. Lucid3
Lucid tools are powerful and highly flexible knowledge management software applications designed to help users with identification or diagnostic tasks.

Lucid software is a special type of expert system, specifically designed for identification and diagnostic purposes, which enables expert knowledge to be “cloned” and distributed to a wide audience via CD or the Internet. The large number of functions incorporated in the software and the ability to include multi-media makes the creation and use of identification and diagnostic keys easy, effective and enjoyable.

3. Delta format and Key
The DELTA format (DEscription Language for TAxonomy) is a flexible and powerful method of recording taxonomic descriptions for computer processing. It was adopted as a standard for data exchange by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).

The DELTA System is an integrated set of programs based on the DELTA format. The facilities available include the generation and typesetting of descriptions and conventional keys, conversion of DELTA data for use by classification programs, and the construction of Intkey packages for interactive identification and information retrieval. The System was developed in the CSIRO Division of Entomology during the period 1971 to 2000. It is in use worldwide for diverse kinds of organisms, including viruses, corals, crustaceans, insects, fish, fungi, plants, and wood. The programs are free for non-commercial use.

The program Key generates conventional identification keys. In selecting characters for inclusion in the key, the program determines how well the characters divide the remaining taxa, and balances this information against subjectively determined weights that specify the ease of use and reliability of the characters. Keys can be tailored for specific purposes by adjusting the weights, restricting the keys to subsets of the characters and taxa, and changing the values of parameters that control various aspects of the key generation. For example, keys could be produced for particular countries or climates; using only vegetative, floral, or fruit characters; starting with important characters; or biased towards common species.

4. Kew Interactive Key Forum
Interactive keys can loosely be described as software which makes identification of organisms easier by taking advantage of the data querying and multimedia capabilities of modern computers. There are a number of tools available for both building and running these keys with the main current players being Lucid and DELTA/Intkey.

There are a growing number of interactive identification tools being built at Kew and other institutes around London. There is also growing interest in the broader taxonomic community including global initiatives such as the IdentifyLife project and a number of on-line electronic floras.

The Kew Interactive Key Forum has been started so that users and developers of interactive keys can share their knowledge and past experiences.

12. Using Digital Plant Images as Specimens

Digital Plant Images as Specimens: Toward Standards for Photographing Living Plants
Steven J. Baskauf and Bruce K. Kirkoff | Download PDF

Abstract. Although specimens in natural history collections have traditionally been limited to physical objects, sets of images can serve many of the purposes of specimens if the images are collected in an appropriate manner. Image specimen sets should include standardized high resolution digital images of taxonomically important features of the organism, and the time, date, and location of image collection. Suggested image standards are presented here for woody and herbaceous angiosperms, gymnosperms, ferns, and cacti. Adoption of image standards will facilitate the creation of educational resources that can be made widely available through recently-developed electronic delivery methods such as the Internet and portable electronic devices.