11 Jun An Attempt at Capturing Agate’s Impressive Plant Biodiversity
Here at Agate Fossil Beds, there are many different types of plants that grow, ranging from cactuses to irises, and grasses to lichens. This summer, I am working on updating and developing an herbarium collection of the impressive plant biodiversity Agate Fossil Beds has to offer. For those who may not know, an herbarium collection consists of dried and pressed plant and flower specimens that can be preserved for many years. Oftentimes, herbarium collections are used for purely scientific reasons, with researchers being able to study and monitor the changing biodiversity in an area or using DNA from these preserved specimens. I am excited to be working on this project, as the main goal is for the collection to be used for educational purposes. Visitors of the park will be able to interact with and learn about the plants that they may encounter while exploring the park. The vision for this project includes a growing collection that others can add to through different seasons to better capture Agate’s total plant biodiversity, and to reflect changes in the plants that grow in different areas of the park. Additionally, my project has a focus on the ethnobotanical significance of these plants. It is well known and has been studied before how Native American tribes indigenous to this area had many resourceful uses for plants that grew locally. Specifically in this region, the Lakota people found many interesting ways to use the plants around them, for example, they used the dried roots of Yucca (Yucca glauca) as shampoo and used the flowers of Broadbeard Beardtongue (Penstemon angustifolius) to make blue paint for moccasins.
Creating a herbarium collection consists of several main steps. First, collecting the plants in a way to minimize wilting and preserving the roots is important. Additionally, recording important information about the plant, such as the approximate height and the GPS coordinates of where the plant was found, is helpful. Secondly, the plants need to be dried while being pressed in a plant press. With the plant press, it’s important that the plant specimen are placed in between a newspaper and then placed in between absorbent sheets and corrugated cardboard, to assist with the airflow and the drying process. The newspapers also need to be replaced every day earlier on during the process, and later on can be replaced every two-three days instead. Different plants will take longer to dry, and when replacing the papers, it can be helpful to rearrange the stems, leaves, and flower petals. A brush and other tools are used to remove dirt and other debris. Eventually, after the plants are determined to be completely dry, they will need to be placed in a freezer for 48-72 hours, which will help kill pests, prior to placing these plants in the glass preservation mounts. Lastly, placing the plants in the glass mounts, writing the correct labels, and including necessary scientific and ethnobotanical information is crucial. A large part of this project involves correctly identifying plant species. This is something that can be challenging, but is very fun to realize how many leaf or petal patterns you can pick up on that are unique to a specific plant species. I will update more on the process once my plants are dry and are being transitioned into the glass cases.