A Trip Downtown: Mounting Plants in the Stone Wall Gallery

Tera Shewchenko is a co-op biology and sociology student from the University of Ottawa. Her placement for summer 2013 at the Canadian Museum of Nature was in the National Herbarium, which is housed in our research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec.

One Sunday, I went to work at the museum in downtown Ottawa to mount plants and talk to the public. Our visit was part of a series of visits whose goal was to test places in the museum where we could set up a station to mount plants and interact with the public.

A sheet of newspaper is unfolded to reveal a pressed plant and a label.

This was how we received the specimens for mounting. The pressed plant is loose in folded newspaper, along with the label. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

A woman's hands on a table amid assorted plant-mounting tools.

Tools used for mounting plant specimens to a herbarium sheet:
• tweezers for handling the plant specimens
• fabric strips with glue on one side for fastening the specimen to the herbarium paper
• scissors to cut the fabric strips
• glue for attaching labels
• a white stick called a bone that is used to press a glued label down to ensure that it is flat
• extra paper to make packets for seeds or other plant debris that may have fallen off the specimen.
Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

Many of the volunteers and a couple of collection staff members participated over the summer months. Along with testing which places are best to work in, the group tested which days were best for optimal interaction with the public. Over the summer, the group managed to test on all seven days of the week.

Of the places that the group visited, the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery and the RBC Blue Water Gallery were found to be the best for interaction with the public.

I went to the museum on a Sunday with botany-collection technician Micheline Beaulieu-Bouchard. We were set up in the Stone Wall Gallery, which is on the bottom floor of the museum.

It was neat because when we were mounting plants in the gallery, there was an exhibition of plants that were collected on Arctic expeditions, so we had giant pictures of Arctic-plant specimens from the museum all around us. Some plants had puffy seeds, others had elegant leaves and others had beautiful, bright flowers. I thought the stone walls complemented the images nicely. (Flora of the Canadian Arctic is on until January 2014).

A person's hand adjusts the stem of a southern catalpa plant (Catalpa bignonioides; CAN600083) on a herbarium sheet.

This southern catalpa is in the process of being mounted. Before we attach it with sticky fabric strips and the label with glue, we usually arrange the specimen and the label on the page to get an idea of how we are going to space things out. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

A herbarium sheet of narrowleaf arnica (Arnica angustifolia ssp. angustifolia; CAN109076).

As this specimen of narrowleaf arnica from 1915 shows, the best practices for mounting plants haven’t changed much over the last century. The plant was collected during the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913–1916. The large-format, high-resolution reproduction of the sheet in our Stone Wall Gallery looks almost real. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

It was a pleasant environment to mount plants in. The Stone Wall Gallery was considered one of the poorer places—but not the worst—in terms of the quantity of public interactions; however, I still had an enjoyable experience.

I was able to glimpse some of the goings-on in the museum, including new exhibitions. I was also able to meet some of the people who work there and to share with the public some of my knowledge about plants at the herbarium, the mounting and collecting of specimens, and the work of the museum.

I talked to several visitors. Some of them had traveled to the Arctic where the specimens we were mounting were collected and they had stories to tell about their adventures. Others worked at museums in other cities such as Toronto. So while interacting with visitors, I was able to learn from them as they learned from me, which was fun. I really enjoy exchanging information with people and the spread of knowledge and understanding of the world.

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