Herbaria make fascinating time capsules. In a museum or university near you, there’s probably a room with pages and pages of old, large sheets of paper, each with a dried whole plant delicately taped to it. These are the plant equivalents of dinosaur bones or taxidermied wildlife: once-living specimens preserved for the future, with all their detail intact, because they are not drawings or imprints but the actual plants themselves.
If you’ve been taking daily walks, like I have, you’re probably noticing things you never did before—or paying extra attention to them. I know that the neighbour’s pink dogwoods have recently started blooming near me, the garlic mustard is starting to take over a corner of my backyard (it’s invasive, I should really pull it), and my daughter’s beloved dandelions have been in full bloom for weeks.
I don’t have the energy to journal much, but I have been taking photos of things I see. And now that I know about the quarantine herbarium, I may start pressing some plants to create a nature scrapbook that is made of actual scraps of nature.
Historian Elaine Ayers has created a collaborative quarantine herbarium project, and contributions are open to everyone. Press your own specimens, scan or photograph them, and email to add them to the collection. (Instructions are here.)
Whether you submit to the project or not, you can always create a herbarium for yourself, as a sort of time capsule of how you experienced this season. An herbarium specimen typically includes notes about when and where the plant was collected; you can add as much extra detail as you like. You don’t have to stick to wild specimens, either. Houseplants count too, and I noticed a photo of freshly harvested garden asparagus in the collection with a note that “these specimens will be consumed after documentation.”
Like maps and kid-friendly time capsules, a herbarium can be a way to connect with your surroundings and live in the moment a bit, while consciously creating a record that you can return to in the future.