A good way to preserve plant and leaf specimens is to press them. You can always stick them between the pages of a fat book (make sure you protect the book by slipping the plants between sheets of clean paper), but an even better press is a portable one you can take with you on hikes. You can make your own at home with some simple materials.
Take two pieces of 1/4″ plywood or masonite cut to the size you want. A 6″ x 8″ rectangle is a good size to tote: make the press larger if you plan to leave it at home. Drill holes in the four corners of each board and attach them to one another with long bolts that have wings. Cut several pieces of heavy cardboard from an old box to fit.
As you find leaves, flowers and plants to press, place them between sheets of clean paper. Sandwich these between the layers of cardboard. Tighten the nuts evenly at all four corners to put enough pressure on the plants or leaves to press them flat. Your specimens should be dry within a few weeks.
Start a Scrapbook of Pressed Leaves
A good way to get to know the different trees is to make a scrapbook of pressed leaves.
Now that the trees are in full leave, you’ll be able to find flawless specimens to press. Mount the pressed leaves in a scrapbook of some sort. A store-bought one will do, but you can make your own with a three-ring binder. Use poster board for pages — it holds up well and provides a firm surface for the leaves. You can glue the leaves in place (use white glue), or attach them the way scientists do, with thin strips of paper that straddle the stems and lobes. You can also keep leaves in place with a clear sheet of contact paper, which protects them from dust and damage.
Make sure you label the leaves. And leave some room for the trees’ flowers and fruits, if you like. You might also leave space for samples of the leaves in their autumn guises.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user sondysart]