How to Make an Herbarium Voucher

A little project I have been working on over the past couple of weeks has been organizing the field office’s herbarium. It doesn’t look like it has seen much love since the times when Apiaceae was called Umbelliferae. I have been working on sorting specimens, updating family, genus and species names as well as creating some new vouchers from materials us interns have collected over the season. I’m not an overly creative person, so I figured I’d lay out the process for creating an herbarium voucher for the purpose of this blog entry. I’ll be working with curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), a forb, so other growth forms such as shrubs and trees will require different treatment.

Step 1: Obtain a specimen

Before you make an herbarium voucher, it is necessary to find the plant that will be on the voucher. To collect a good specimen, there are a couple of things that you will want to look for. Your plant should be an average plant (not uncharacteristically large or small), be generally free of disease and damage from insects or other predators, and contain either a flower or fruit to aid in identification. Once you locate a good one, rip it out of the ground. Just get down and pull. If the soil isn’t sandy or moist enough it may help to use a shovel or other tool to remove it, ideally you will want to get some roots, but just uproot that plant from all of its friends and neighbors as completely as you can.


Just a plant press, waiting to be given a job

Step 2: Press the specimen

Once you have your target plant, you need to press it so that the 3D organism can be preserved and stored as a 2D representation of itself. You will need a plant press, some sheets of blotter paper, a piece of cardboard, and a sheet of newspaper. When pressing plants, I like to do an initial press for 15-30 minutes to make the plant more malleable. Fun fact about curlycup gumweed – the common name actually applies to the plant as it’s very sticky and made some tears in the newspaper. Once the plant bends a bit better it is easier to pose it so that some flowers are visible, some leaves are upside down and others are right side up, and the stems and branches don’t overlap. Once positioned in a pleasing pose, press again and leave for a week or two.


Step 3: Manage your information

A good voucher will have a little piece of paper in the bottom right corner of the sheet that will give you some information about the specimen. Information that you want to put down includes the scientific and common names, where you picked the plant, the general habitat and other associated species, and a collection number. This information will be helpful when you want to find a population of Grindelia squarrosa but can’t quite find a disturbed area along a roadside anywhere else. Fun fact – Grindelia squarrosa concentrates selenium from the soil, which can make it toxic when ingested by mammals. In retrospect, maybe don’t trust the common name.

Step 4: Secure the sample and file it away

After the plant has spent enough time in the press and your information is placed neatly on small piece of paper, it is time to attach all of it to a larger, acid-free piece of paper. This is your chance to hone the skills you learned in kindergarten and use glue! If you posed the plant well before pressing it it will fit nicely on the acid-free paper with no parts sticking off of the page. When gluing, make sure to leave room for the information sheet in the corner: never shall the two touch. Fun fact – unlike Grindelia squarrosa, the glue you will be using is most likely non-toxic, so feel free to go to town on that if you so desire! Just be sure to check first! Once the glue dries and everything is secure, the voucher is ready to be saved in the herbarium to help teach next year’s interns what things are.


Sometimes you’ll have to weigh down some of the thinner parts of the plant

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Many thanks to Wikipedia for some of the information in this post


Shoshone Field Office

A Hodge Podge of Protocols

Its been a while since I last wrote anything here, but a lot has gone on since the last time and I have been learning a lot of new protocols in the meantime. The last time I wrote I was just about to head off to the CLM conference in Chicago. It was a great experience! We heard talks from people working with and studying native seed, learned more about the Seeds of Success program, got to explore the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden grounds, and were able to meet many other fellow interns. It was nice to be back in a city again too, I haven’t had Chipotle since being there.


I finally saw a sage grouse! Truly the reason for this field season

When we returned to Shoshone, we finished up our HAF surveys in a few weeks and moved on to many other protocols. The next protocol we worked on was fire re-entry. After fires, the BLM will seed some specific grasses that do well in the climate and that the cows and other grazers will find palatable. Looking for the seeded grasses, we would walk a transect and measure the closest species, note whether it had seed heads or not, and give it a quick tug to see if grazers would rip it out or not when trying to eat it. We pretended to be cows for a while and it was pretty sweet.


The area on the left burned in 2014, the difference is stunning

After that we checked out some trend data plots. These sites were established in the 1960’s and have been monitored every couple years until the present. This long term data give a great picture of how the land is changing over time and what the impacts on specific areas are. Unfortunately we were unable to find 2 of the sites, apparently fires burned through the area and, in the re-seeding effort, the plots got ripped up. The rest of the plots we found gave us great data though, and I feel confident in saying that I am an expert at identifying dead plants in Southern Idaho.

I had never gone caving before, but we were able to go out with the Geo Corps team, people that work with the geological resources in the field office, and explore some of the caves around here. Southern Idaho has a volcanic history, and that activity has left many caves in the area, mostly of the lava tube variety. We explored 4 caves, including Gypsum Cave, which, measuring 2.5 miles long, is the second longest lava tube in the lower 48 states. I was also able to go with the Geo Corps team to assess some sites for rock hounding in our field office. They were making a brochure for the field office to hand out to people looking for neat rocks, and we went to some of the sites to see if it was worthwhile to send people there. Although the day I went with them didn’t lead to as exciting finds as some of their other sites, I found some obsidian and cool looking calcite.


Gypsum Cave


Tea Kettle cave, my favorite cave so far


Caves lead to some good opportunities for artsy photos


I found out obsidian and quartz are both primarily made from SiO2, but the difference is black and white!

Finally we were able to join up with the Idaho Fish and Game biologist to do some monarch tagging! Monarchs go through a huge migration every fall down to Mexico, and our goal was to catch and tag ones we saw in order to get some data on where the monarch population of Idaho end up. It was fun to spend a day working with butterflies, and it was pretty funny to be grown adults sprinting down the road with a butterfly net. We were only able to tag 2 Monarchs, but luckily more were tagged before we got started.


After catching them, a small sticker is placed on the right wing

I have about 2 months left in my internship now, and I have certainly learned a lot and had experiences I would probably not have anywhere else. Huge shout out to my mentor, Joanna, for coming up with all of these opportunities for us, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has to offer!


Ipomopsis aggregata, one of the showier plants I’ve seen out here

BLM, Shoshone field office

One Month In

I have been working here in Idaho for just over a month now, and our crew is starting to really get rolling on our surveys. We are finishing up our work in the lower country just in time, this last week the heat started to set in and the plants are feeling it! The only thing harder than identifying plants that you aren’t familiar with is identifying plants that are unfamiliar AND dried up husks of their former selves. We will be moving up into higher country in the next few weeks which will allow us to work with some fresher specimens.

One of the things that is new to me being out west is the specter of fires. Many of the sites we have been working in have had a fire roll through them, and the lasting effects can be dramatic. We tagged along with the fuel monitoring crew for a field day travelling to different burn sites and seeing how the BLM restores the sites. It was neat to see how areas in different stages of restoration look differently, and hearing about the process was interesting. They do a mix of drill and aerial seeding to introduce native grasses and cover species back into the plots in an effort to stop the spread of invading annual grasses, cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) and medusa-head (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). These grasses can easily and densely colonize ground opened by fire disturbance. The kicker is that they mature and die quickly, which in turn increases the likelihood of fire breaking out again. Seeding select species, and treating weeds when necessary, can reduce the area these grasses can cover, as well as reintroducing diversity into the plots.


This site has been overrun with cheat grass, already turning brown and drying out.


This site hasn’t had a fire in a while, sagebrush and other species are present, and the open ground is covered with a biotic crust, which reduces the chance of invasive grasses moving in.







We also spent a day collecting seed for the Seeds of Success program. This program collects seed of native plant species for conservation purposes, as well as using them to re-seed sites hit by fire. The seeds we were looking for were false dandelion (Agoseris sp.) and false agoseris (Nothocalais troximoides). Yes, these plants are very similar. I was able to keep them straight thanks to guidance from our mentor, and once we learned the difference the collecting was pretty easy. I was literally paid to pick flowers for a day, and it was amazing.

Shoshone Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

My Own Public Idaho

I have been working at the Shoshone Field Office with the Bureau of Land Management in Shoshone, Idaho for two weeks now and it has been a good time. A lot of my time so far has been spent completing trainings on various topics, and with a few more to go we will be ready to go into the field and get started on our project. I will be working on completing Habitat Assessment Frameworks for the suitability of sage grouse on two BLM allotments, Clover Creek and Davis Mountain. These allotments allow cattle and sheep to be grazed on them regularly, and our project will determine if the grazing has affected the allotments’ suitability for sage grouse habitat.

Technical talk aside, I’m excited to make the most out of living in Idaho. There are so many opportunities to get outside and explore that it’s almost overwhelming. I was able to go out and familiarize myself with the allotments I’ll be working in and it was amazing to see so much diversity in a compact space. The allotments span from low level pastures that extend up into high hills, with some pretty cool canyons in the middle. I learned that they are shaped this way because it is how ranchers would historically move their herds as the seasons progressed; following the green plants. I am excited to get to work and learn all about the landscape, especially the plants.


A view of the Bennett Hills


Lewisia sp. One of many new-to-me plants


Just a cow in front of some sagebrush