Field Techniques Used by Missouri Botanical Garden
It is recommended that you have a sheath for your clippers and machete, making both hands available, for safer and more efficient collecting. Some botanists attach hand tools to a belt with pull chains to prevent losing or forgetting them in the field. There is risk of getting the chain caught in vegetation orhung up on a limb when climbing with this latter approach and is not recommended. Additionally, the use of lanyards or wrist ties will allow a tool to swing back into the body and should not be used.
Well maintained tools make your work much easier. Equipment should always be inspected before use. Defective or damaged equipment, especially ropes, harnesses, and securing straps, should be repaired or replaced immediately. Always use proper safety equipment.
Whenever purchasing equipment, ergonomical hand grips should be acquired as they provide greater grip strength and reduce fatigue and possible injury.
It is acceptable to make a skimpy specimen if that is all the material there is. But if sufficient material is available, it requires little more effort to make ample sheets. If only skimpy fertile material is available, the sheet can often be improved by adding extra sterile material. Since the objective of a good specimen is to provide in a convenient form an adequate representation of a plant, one should always include the full range of characters exhibited by the plant, including such things as the largest and smallest leaves, young leaves to show pubescence, stipules, etc. Specimens should always be improved by adding extra flowers or fruits and inflorescences. There is no reason to include only one inflorescence or one flower per specimen when there is an abundance of material at hand.
Fertile and Sterile Vouchers
It is very important to collect fertile material if at all possible. Collect flowers and if possible fruits for each specimen. If you have sterile vouchers for ecological or anthropological studies, make another collection of fertile material of the same species. Thus the voucher can be matched and verified with the fertile collection because the fertile specimen can be determined much more easily. Do not ignore vegetative characters. If there are different types of leaves, show that. Get mature and immature twigs, especially in vines, etc. Sap shoots or stump sprouts and saplings often have very different characters from mature material, and can be very useful.
Strict field pressing is usually less efficient than collecting in plastic bags. Fragile material can be placed in a field press and sturdy things held in a plastic bag for later pressing. Always carry small plastic bags or newspaper for wrapping smaller or more fragile plants. These can then be put into a larger bag. As an alternative to using small bags, small samples can be wrapped in any large leaf, such as Heliconia.
When collecting in plastic bags, fold the specimens to the correct length for a herbarium sheet and place them firmly, but carefully, into the bag. Don't just drop them in. This way separate collections will not become tangled and there will be less damage. Later when emptying the bag, turn it upside down and carefully dump it all out if they are tangled. Don't try to pull materialout of the bag. This usually breaks up the specimens. It is preferable to use large bags rather than small ones, as there will be less damage to the plants. If you have large, heavy plants, it is best to put them into a separate bag as they may damage other more delicate plants in the bag. This is especially true for palms and large aroids.
To prevent significant wilting, plants may be wrapped in moist newspaper and placed in a plastic bag, which should be kept shaded. When mass collecting in tropical areas, this is not always feasible.
Mosses, cones, fruits, Cuscuta flowers, cacti, and some other succulents, can be put in small paper bags, each numbered on the front, and dried unpressed. If stored in plastic bags, they rapidly mold, even after drying.
Shrinkage During Drying
Plants shrink on drying, which is especially true of more succulent plants. Keep this in mind when collecting and pressing. What may appear to be ample material when fresh may be skimpy once it is dried.
Habit Information and Tags
When collecting actually look at the the plant to estimate height or note other characters. Many who have trouble remembering this information never closely examined the plant in the first place. If you have trouble remembering details, carry a small notebook or a marking pen to write directly on the leaves. For example, E could stand for epiphyte, t for terrestrial, s-2 for shrub 2 meters, t-4 for tree 4 meters, etc. Alternatively, write on the edge of the newspaper as you are pressing the plants. Many collectors tag their collections to prevent later mix-ups. Small white tags should be securely tied to stems or fruits, with the collector's name, collection number, and a field determination written in permanent ink or pencil. Other collectors have used stick-on type tags. These techniques become difficult to use if field conditions are rugged, or if it rains.
Clipper (pruning) poles are very useful, if not essential when working in forested areas. The standard MO pole set consist of two nested poles whose combined length, when locked, is about 3.6 m. By adding extra poles one can work relatively easily with up to six poles for a total of about 10.5 m. After locking together several pole segments, the pole must be kept vertical and new pole units added from the bottom. Because of the flexibility of the poles and joints, the clipper head will sway unless the pole is vertical or well supported. The pole can be made more stable by leaning it against a branch while other poles are added or to guide the clipper head to the desired limb. A few people have successfully added a seventh or eighth pole, but this requires a fair amount of strength and skill and is not recommended.
Poles and other extendable collecting equipment are difficult to carry. As an alternative, one can cut a long, slender, sturdy sapling with a fork on the end. By inserting it among smaller branches and twisting, one can frequentlyget samples from up to 6 m above the ground. If you cut one of the forks half way and bend it against the other one and tie it, you can form a hook that is useful for pulling down epiphytes. In most areas this will have little significant ecological impact, but do not use it in an area where there will be many botanists working in a relatively small area, or where long-term ecological studies are underway.
Shooting a lead weight attached to fishing line over a branch using a hunting-type sling shot is another method. One then uses the fishing line to pull back over the branch a strong, slender rope with a piece of chain saw blade in the middle of it. Two people standing a little apart can then pull back and forth and saw through the branch. It is more difficult for one person alone. A modification is to cut a 4 to 6 foot length of chain saw blade in half. By riveting these two pieces together with one-half up and one-half down, one is assured of having a cutting edge facing the correct direction when it is used. Caution is needed to insure you are not positioning yourself in the path of any debri or large specimens as they may fall. A bit of pink or bright colored flagging at each end of the blade helps in positioning the blade.
Tree Climbing Techniques
A sling shot or arrow may also be used to shoot a slender line across a large branch. Then twine is attached and pulled over the branch, and finally the twine is attached to a mountaineer's rope. With the rope one is able to climb using mountaineering techniques and to descend the same way. It is very important to always use a safety belt or harness when moving around in the canopy. Lanyards or vertical lifelines should not be of natural fiber rope, and should be rated at sustaining 5,000 pounds. D rings and snap hooks should be steel or equivalent and protected from corrosion.
Regular tree climbing irons (linemen's spikes) and belt are better for large trees, and French climbing irons are better for smaller trees.
One can combine the use of irons for ascending the tree with mountaineering ropes for descending the tree, which is the most difficult and dangerous part with climbing irons.
Tree Climbing Bicyles
The tree climbing bicycle is another method. These are climbing irons with adjustable bands going around the tree. The only way that it is similar to a bicycle is that it requires a pumping action to ascend and descend. This equipment is easier and probably safer to use than climbing irons but it is heavier and much bulkier to transport.
Climbing and Clipper Poles
Combining climbing together with clipper poles has been very successful. Once one is positioned near the canopy, one can pull up the clipper pole and can usually reach branches of a number of different trees accessible from the same point. Always remember to tie the clipper pole rope to your belt before ascending.
A few people have used quality target guns to shoot branches down. This requires great skill and special permits are needed in most places to carry guns. Also, local people are much more concerned about strangers when they are carrying guns. Except in very special circumstances, firearms are not recommended.
It is necessary to balance the equipment carried (which helps you collect plants) and the distance you are able to cover, because you are less encumbered, thus being able to collect more species and possibly able to get into more places. Also, one has to find a balance between struggling for one particular plant and traveling a greater distance, with the possibility of finding the same plant in a more accessible place. Rarely collected species are certainly worth more effort than commonly collected ones. Species that are often found near the ground are worth less effort than ones never found near the ground. During the first days in a new area it is better to not expend too much effort on any particular species, because with famialiarity you will improve chance of finding the same plant in a more convenient place.