Make-It Monday: A Plant Press

How to Make a Plant Press

When I was a teenager, back in the 60’s, one of my household duties was to do the ironing. Argh.


Standing over a hot iron, pressing the wrinkles out of a pair of pants or a shirt, was the last thing I wanted to be doing. Worse yet—ironing pillowcases and yes, sheets! Hard to imagine in today’s world.

Pressed flowers

One thing I did like pressing was plants and flowers. Why press them? People have pressed flowers for centuries—to preserve blossoms given by a loved one for a memory album or for creating artwork such as cards and pictures.

Naturalists press and collect plant specimens for a botanical field notebook to use for identification.

The USNH, U.S. National Herbarium, found at the National Museum of Natural History, has over 5 million specimens. The Herbarium at the Kew Gardens near London contains over 7 million specimens. Imagine that! These collections provide scientists with valuable information about the Earth’s flora. We will learn more about these collections and interesting facts about them in future blog posts.

My plant press

Right now, how about making your own plant press? The exciting thing about this pastime is you don’t need fancy equipment. You probably have what you need right in your home.

What materials do I need?

  • Cardboard
  • 2 books about the same size
  • Newspaper
  • Good scissors
  • Bungee cords or old belts

How do I make a plant press?

  1. Trace the shape of one of the books onto the cardboard. Cut out the shape with scissors. Make at least five pieces of cardboard.  Use adult supervision when cutting. WHY cardboard? Cardboard provides support for your specimens and also allows some air to flow around the plants as they dry.
  2. Cut out some pieces of newspaper the same size.
Cardboard and newspaper cut to book size

How do I put together my plant press?

  1. One of the books will be the bottom of the plant press. On top of the book, place a piece of cardboard. On top of the cardboard, put several pieces of newspaper. The newspaper will absorb the moisture from the plants as they dry in the plant press.
  2. Arrange your collected plant or flower specimens on the newspaper. They shouldn’t touch each other (they will stick together when dried) or be too large or chunky (they won’t flatten or dry out well).
  3. Place some newspaper pieces on top of the plants, then another piece of cardboard.
  4. Add more newspaper, then more plant specimens, more newspaper and then another piece of cardboard.
  5. Continue doing this until your press is full of specimens.
  6. Put the second book on top.
  7. Use your bungee cords or belts to wrap around the press and pull them tight to squeeze the layers together.
  8. Put your plant press in a dry area for about 3 days.

How do I know if my speicmens are pressed and ready?

        When you open the press, look at the first layer of plants. If they still feel wet, they need more time pressing. When plants are ready, they will be dry and sometimes brittle. You may want to remove them with tweezers.

         If you want to start a field notebook, you can use white paper and glue your specimens down with a drop of glue mixed with a drop of water and a brush.

        Be sure to label your specimen with the date you collected it, the location, and any other information you want to record. This way, when you look at the specimens in the future, you will have that important information available.

Remember: Never collect plants from parks or private properties. And know what NOT to collect, like poison ivy!      

Stay tuned to the next Make-It Monday post, July 19, for some interesting facts about herbarium collections.

Nature Mamaw

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