Encouraging the young naturalist: make your own plant press

So, you’ve got a little Asa Gray on your hands… a kid who stops to smell the roses, and the dandelions, the geraniums, and the four’o’clocks.  She picks bouquets of flowers just to collect them, and is disappointed when they wilt in her sweaty palm before she’s even back to the car.

Please tell your child that Auntie Olivia understands her pain.  She too was once a wee one with a passion for flowers.  I was nine when I made my first plant press, collecting every weed I happened upon and carefully preserving them in newspaper, smothered beneath stacks of books.  “I’m documenting“, I’d say to explain away quizzical stares and barely hidden snickers.  Lewis and Clark were my  heroes, and I toyed with ‘sketching’ the natural world around me, so that posterity could someday look back and appreciate the new species I had found in my backyard.  Perhaps they would name it after me, I fantasized.

After years of experimenting with presses and ways to store away the beautiful flowers around me, I was introduced to a lovely and simple way to make a tiny plant-press by my good friend Harold (who’s beautiful wife had twins just last Monday!  Congratulations  you two!!!).  Your little botanist is in luck: today I’m sharing Harold’s simple plant press with you!

What you’ll need:

  • Two shorter bungie cords (or one long one)
  • A piece of wood.  Pegboard works if you’ve got a little piece.  I got a piece of poplar 1/4x1x4 for $3.89 at the local hardware store.
  • Index cards (the big 4×6 kind, unlined)
  • A handsaw
  • A pencil
  • A ruler

  1. First, measure two rectangles on the board, each 5 x 7 inches… outline with a pencil to make cutting easier.  My board was exactly the right width (five inches), so I just had to measure two seven inch lengths.
  2. Use the saw to cut out the rectangles.
  3. Put index cards between the two pieces of board you’ve  cut out, and wrap with the bungee cords.  I loosened the bungee cord for this picture, but you actually want to be stretching it pretty tight for true plant pressing–two each about a foot long is good, or one that is two feet long.
  4. Voila!  A little plant press.

As far as your little botanist using his new plant press, and getting the most from it, here are a few tips:

Help your child with the first plant or two:  Explain how to lay a plant on an index card so that its leaves are spread out, and so that daisy-like flower heads are flat on the paper (so that they ‘face’ you, rather than being turned up and folded in half once you squash them).  In contrast, press tubular flowers so that they fold in half.  One plant goes between any two index cards–but you can put them between five index cards if you so desire for added support.  (Note: the above picture is demonstrating the wrong way to press a flower–I took some artistic license for your viewing pleasure).

The most important thing is that your child is noticing things around them.  If they want to collect and press blades of grass and dandelions, that’s just fine.  Don’t be too disturbed if they’re not seeking out the rarer items… chances are good that will come with time.

To preserve pressed flowers (they take about two to three days to dry), two good options are to laminate the index cards using self-adhesive laminating sheets, or photo pages, placing the dried flower on the page and pressing the overlay over the top.

For older kids, encourage them to write on the index card, indicating where they collected the plant, on what day, and any other details they think are important.

Want to identify the flowers?  Every kid can learn the common plant families that occur around their neck of the woods, and for getting down to which particular plant it is, flower guide books for your area, with lots of pictures, are a) fun for kids to look through in general and b) encourage their little brains by ‘matching up’ their specimen with a picture in the book.  Here are a few books that are a good start:  Golden Guide to WildflowersPeterson Color-in Field Guide (with Stickers), Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers, and for you to help them out:  Botany in a Day:  the Patterns Method of Plant Identification.

You know what else presses nicely in a plant press?  Fall leaves.

Happy Plant-Squashing!


21 Comments so far

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  1. That is such a great easy idea – I’m sure my kids will love it!

    • Jessica: Glad you like it. Hope you and your kids enjoy!

  2. Very cool. I loved my plant press as a kid. We’ve made little plant presses too, and the only thing I would add is maybe a piece or two of corrugated cardboard to add airflow and help the plants dry more quickly in a wet environment (ie: out East).

    Last year Doodle and I made a leaf book out of all of the new and exciting leaves that were falling. We got to talk about different kinds of trees and look at how the leaf shapes were similar and different. Definitely a fun leaf-press-worthy activity for the next couple of months.

    • MamaBee, Great suggestions, and of course I forgot to think of the importance of airflow to drying plants in the East. Of course, in the East, trees are also more fun to look at, what with all the different shapes and sizes–a plant press is a perfect way to appreciate them. Moving to Illinois gave me a new respect for the diversity of trees found on this continent!
      Thanks, as always, for your input!!!

  3. Sus

    Abby is more interested in sticks right now. Presumably we’ll get to the more press-able flowers later on ; )

    • Sus: nothing wrong with loving sticks! Perhaps if you were to press edible flowers, she’d be more interested? Ha ha.

  4. Bonnie

    Great ideas. If you get a particularly nice pressed flower, you can sandwich it between glass, tape the edges and hang it in a window to catch the light or on a wall with a panoramic picture of where you collected it.

    • Bonnie: Thanks for the compliment, and those are both fabulous ideas for saving flowers that you’ve pressed well! I especially like the combination of a picture with the pressed flower…

  5. love this! we use books…put our flowers between a folded piece of paper in my cookbook stack…then promptly forget about them…we come upon them later when cooking and it’s a fun surprise, but perhaps we could use a bit more intention! thanx for sharing!

    have a great weekend!

    • Durangomom: First off, just met your blog for the first time, and how I wouldn’t love to meet your family! You guys clearly know how to enjoy life! Second, I have a habit of pressing flowers in books too–mostly because I sometimes forget the press, but there’s always a book around. I kind of like the moment when you find it again, eons later, and think back to the moment you decided to set it in there. Not a bad thing at all!

  6. Lacey

    I now have a great idea for a letter/picture that Adan has promised Ari. :)

    • Lacey… Ari, I am sure, is pleased about this development. =)

  7. I like this idea, with the bungee cords. We are traveling and trying to keep it light, but my son just collected a bunch of leaves yesterday and wants to press them. First try wasn’t successful, should have caught up on my blogs yesterday instead of today! :) This is just right for our little space, so thanks for the idea.

    • Jennifer:
      The bungee cords are great because they’re easier for little hands, too–getting straps tight can be hard! Though if a bungee cord breaks free before being completely secured, it can sting a bit!!! Love your blog–looks like amazing adventures are the norm for your family!

  8. Lindsey

    I’m making these with my pre-schoolers along with a leaf scavenger hunt. The leaves from the scavenger hunt will be pressed and used later in the week to make either leaf monsters, leaf puppets or cool tree art. I thank you dearly for the idea!

    • What a great idea! You know they’ll have a blast finding them, and then again when they get to use them a second time! You’re welcome for the idea–though the genius application is all yours!

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    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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