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How to Identify your plants

Making a Herbarium specimen
What you need to make the plant press
Collecting the plant specimen
To press your plant specimen
To mount your plant specimen you need
Recently identified plants
Lots of you will have access to useful books like Les Robinson's "Field Guide to Native Plants of Sydney" but there may still be times when, in spite of all your searching books, a positive ID eludes you.

At times like that I have found it useful and helpful to turn to the staff at the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney - the Botanical Information Service where they like you to limit the number of your specimens to 6.

To get their help it is best to have a fertile Herbarium Specimen (i.e. one with flower and/or fruit) of each of the plants you want identified. I find specimens fixed to an A4 sized card are usually ok. Occasionally for plants with bigger leaves, or grasses when I try to make a specimen of the whole plant I use an A3 size mount.

Specimens should be numbered and a duplicate set of specimens be retained so that each name can be compared with the appropriate numbered specimen when the list of determinations is returned,
or as an alternative,
collecting specimens from the herbarium once they have been identified.

I usually drop in to the herbarium to leave the unidentified plants and visit again to collect the specimens when they are identified.

Herbarium contact details:

Making a Herbarium specimen

Much of the following is the work of Gary Shadforth formerly from Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. It was published on their website some years ago.
Over 400 years ago people discovered that if freshly cut plant specimens were dried while being pressed between two absorbent surfaces they will retain the majority of their characteristics. These dried specimens, in conjunction with some written information about the plant, make a Herbarium specimen. Herbarium specimens have been used over this time as a means of studying plants for their physical features as well as for studies of ecology, conservation and taxonomy. They could also be considered something of a work of art in themselves.

To make the plant press you can follow the instructions below or or get some extra help from one of the links shown below.

The specimens should include flowers and/or fruits, leaves, stems and in the case of herbaceous plants (other the orchids) should include stolons, rhizomes and /or roots. Sufficient plant material should be collected to cover the specimen folder (about 44cm x 28cm). Some plant specimens may need to be folded or multiple samples collected to fulfil this requirement.

The second part of the specimen is the information label placed in the bottom right hand corner of the support card. This contains all the relevant information about the sample.

What you need to make the plant press:

  • 6 strips of wood 50cm x 2cm x 0.5cm
  • 8 strips of wood 33cm x 2cm x 0.5cm
  • 8 pieces of corrugated cardboard 50cm x 33cm
  • Newspaper
  • 2 pieces of rope 1.5m long
Nail the three long strips of wood to the four cross strips of wood to make the top of the press (as shown in figure 1). Repeat the process with the remaining wood to make the bottom of the press. Cut the corrugated cardboard to size with the vents in the cardboard running the same way as the cross strips of wood. You now have the makings of a plant press.
Diagram showing materials and construction for plant press.

How to make a plant press more simplyHow to make a plant press (youtube video)

Collecting the plant specimen.

Make sure that you have permission from whoever owns the land before you collect any plant material. Also, think about the impact your plant collecting will have on the environment. Is the plant rare? If you are collecting weeds, you will be doing the area a favour. Your plant specimen should have as many different features on it as possible, including leaves, flowers, fruits, seed if they are present.

Collect material to cover an area up to 45cm x 30cm.

Write down the information about the specimen on a small piece of paper (this is very important as it becomes the second part of your herbarium specimen)

  • Number: of specimen in your collection, if more than one submitted.
  • Name: The name of the plant if you know it.
  • Locality: The place where you collected the specimen listing Latitude and Longitude coordinates if possible.
  • Date: The date of collection.
  • Collector: Your name.
  • Notes: The size of the plant, colour of flowers, is it growing on a hill or in a gully, what other things are growing around it, etc.

Diagram showing plant press.

To press your plant specimen

Place the plant in between two sheets of newspaper. Place this in between two sheets of corrugated cardboard (see figure 1). Repeat these steps for another sample. When you have built a sandwich of plant pressings place in the plant press and tie the rope tight (see figure 2). Make sure you check the newspaper every two days to see if it is damp. If it is damp, replace it with two new sheets of newspaper, otherwise your specimen will go moldy.

To mount your plant specimen you need:

A piece of paper (about 150 gm per sq.m.) and store them in a plastic slip-in envelope available in folders for about $2.
  • Glue stick
  • Plastic envelope from folder
  • Weights
  • Transparent sticky tape like library tape. Best to use this after the plant has been identified as fastening to a sheet may make it difficult to observe some features.
Using the glue stick, fasten your information tag in the bottom right corner of the card. Using the sticky tape, fix your plant onto your card so that the flowers and seeds can be easily seen. Slip the card into the plastic envelope and you will have an Herbarium Specimen similar to the ones used for research around the world. As long as you store your specimen horizontally, in a dark, dry place, away from insects that will eat it, it will last a lifetime.
After it is identified you can seal the envelope with tape to keep out insects.

Diagram showing a single plant specimen.
It can then become a permanent record of what was growing at a place at a particular point in time.
A bit like a snapshot of history and possibly a very significant record as we approach a time of global warming.

Recently discovered plants at Tumbi Wetlands Bushcare

Click on Tumbi Wetlands Bushcare for feedback to the group.
Return to What's in Flower Back to Plant Identification Home
Some of the following plants are yet to be identified; others have been easily identified or are already known from some other location.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This tiny orchid is part of the Greenhood group of orchids but the only other one known in the area with such a small flower has a green flower. The overall length, from the top of the ovary to the tip of the hood, is only about 1.5 cms.

10th November, 2014.
This is Pterostylis oblonga(Coastal Maroonhood).
Friday, January 11, 2013

This large sedge was found in an area that is almost continually wet. It can grow well in water: up to 5 metres tall in deep fresh water. It has been identified as Eleoocharis sphacelata
Friday, January 10, 2013

This scrambling shrub has been sighted at TumbiWetlands some time ago by seed collectors but it was photographed only today. It is Goodenia ovata.
Saturday, December 2012

This large shrub has a little Daisey flower and was found in an easily accessible area. It can grow to 5 metres tall but this plant was only 2-3 metres tall. It has been identified as Ozothamnus diosmifolius

April 15 2011

This next group of plants have been identified during 2011
We have been busy since the discovery earlier this year of the rare orchid and are sorry this entry has been delayed. It has been confirmed as Bacopa monnieri, a plant that is cosmopolitan and has been known in India for over 3000 years. It has been part of a natural medicine system and is now being looked at by modern medicine. Bacopa monnieri
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Our other recent discovery is a member of the Salt Marsh Community of plants. It seems to be out of place at Tumbi Wetlands. It is Streaked Arrowgrass - Triglochin striata Triglochin striata
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February 14 2011

Plant discoveries on Tumbi Wetlands started this year with a rare orchid Arthrochilus prolixus, with a stem only 18 cm tall and apparently leafles. However the leaves were found to be growing from separate underground stems. Arthrochilus prolixus
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September 2 2010

This next group of plants have been identified during 2010
This turns out to be one of the less abundant melaleucas on the reserve. It is Melaleuca linariifolia, with the unmistakeable flower with around 30 or more stamens. Confirmed.
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This grass tree has been shown here before with it species unknown. It has now been confirmed as Xanthorrhoea media.
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This Geebung has not flowered previously. It was transplanted as a 10 cm tall seedling some 4 or 5 years ago and we have been waiting for it to flower so that a species confirmation can be made. It is now known to be Persoonia lanceolata.
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This little herb known as River Buttercup, was found in a storm waterway together with Ludwigia peploides and some sedges. It is Ranunculus inundatus.
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This is one of the sedges found with River Buttercup. It is Cyperus polystachyos.
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This is one of the smallest herbs at Tumbi Wetlands. It grows to a height of only 25 cm and is described as aromatic, meaning that it carries some complex chemical substances in its tissue. It is Epaltes australis.
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This is plant has not been seen growing in Tumbi Wetlands but it germinated in a pot where some other plants were waiting for a transplant. It has grown up from a tiny sedling and has struggled unsuccessfully to produce flowers through the winter but has now succeeded so it can be confirmed as Viola betonicifolia.
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September 7 2009

Two Acacias.
This plant and the next one were found during the August flowering time for these two wattles. Both would have looked like the dominant Acacia longifolia without their flowers as they have the same long narrow leaves. This is why they haven't been seen before. The first one was found as the small tree photographed in early August could be Acacia floribunda. Confirmed.
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September 7 2009

This second long leafed Acacia was found late in August and was found as a shrub 1 to 2 metres tall.
It is Acacia elongata. Two or three other specimens of this shrub were found scattered throughout the woodland.

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June 19 2009

A fairly large fern.
This plant was found growing in a damp region downstream from a stormwater drain outlet, after the bush regenerators had cleared away the Blackberry.
It is Blechnum nudum.

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June 19 2009

A little fern.
This plant was found growing in a grassy woodland under a group of small melaleuca shrubs.
It is Pellaea nana.

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April 9 2009

Plants with roots in the water.
This plant was found growing beside Persicaria strigosa, visible in the background, with its dark green leaves and white flowers, and the water fern, Cyclosorus interruptus, listed below.

It is Alternanthera denticulata, the species name being because of the tiny teeth (which you can just see in the highly magnified inset) along the edge of the leaf.

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This plant was also found growing beside Persicaria strigosa and is the water fern, Cyclosorus interruptus.

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February 6 2009

Another Goodenia.
This Goodenia may have been seen before but it wasn't recognised as a different species.

Staff at the NSW Herbarium are have delivered an ID for this one. It stand only about 30 cms high, has a basal rosette of leaves and a spike of flowers that open progressively as the spike grows taller. The flowers are about 1 cm across and without stalks.

It is Goodenia bellidifolia.

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October 2008
A "new" native orchid named.
This orchid was first found in September 2006. Recently a small outcrop of these flowers was found in September 2008. It has been listed previously on this site as species unknown.

Research by staff at the NSW Herbarium has decided that this is a hybrid similar to one first identified 30 kms away. It is to be known as Thelymitra "Chain Valley Bay". All that remains is to see the two parents here.

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A new plant identified
This Hibbertia had been confused with Hibbertia empetrifolia as the flowers were very similar and appeared about the same time but you can see that the leaves are very different. It is a weakly erect shrub to about 0.5 metres high, quite common in shrubby understoreys of woodlands.

Flowers in early spring and right through Summer to Autumn. However the flower is only about 1 cm across. It is Hibbertia riparia.

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A sedge identified
This Carex sedge produces flowers and fruits during a very brief month and then all signs of the infloresence fall away, leaving it in a state that can not be clearly identified for much of the year.

It is Carex fascicularis


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Another Pultenaea
This Pultenaea which began flowering in very late September has leaves with the cross section of P.paleacea and P.polifolia.

It is Pultenaea paleacea.

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Edited on ... April 27, 2011