Pressing Plants: Connecting Science, Art, and the Natural World

Long used in both science and art, a plant press can be a valuable addition to your science class. Easily made from inexpensive materials, a press can help your students connect their study of plants in science class to what they observe in the natural world.

Pressing plants, flowers, and even leaves can supplement your science curriculum in many ways. Students can

  • gain a better understanding of plant structures,
  • appreciate the diversity of plants in your local area,
  • learn skills for plant identification, and
  • learn about the field of botany and sampling practices.

Additionally, sampling, pressing, and displaying specimens can engage students who have a strongly developed naturalist intelligence.

First, students will need to collect specimens. You can have students bring in leaves, flowers, and plants or you can collect them on a class field trip. Be sure to discuss guidelines for sampling with your students so they aren’t disrupting gardens or other “off-limits” sources. (You can find a good general set of guidelines by scrolling down to “Important Rules and Guidelines for Collecting Plants” on this page.) If you will be taking a field trip, make sure that students will be able to collect specimens at the location.

The types of specimens collected will depend on the focus of the activity. A lesson on trees will involve leaf collection, while a study of plant parts would involve small plants (preferably with flowers and roots).

The time needed to press specimens will vary. Once completely dry, specimens can be mounted on paper using glue or tape. Students can label the plant with its name and information about where it was collected. Students could also demonstrate an understanding of plant or flower structures by labeling specimens accordingly. Students may each assemble a book of specimens, or create a class book. Alternatively, pressed flowers might be used in an art project.

Finally, universities and botanical gardens often have pressed plant collections. You might be able to arrange a field trip or guest speaker to explain how these collections aid botanists in learning and identifying the many species of plants.


How to Make a Flower Press
Directions on how to make a flower press with inexpensive household materials.

Make a Plant/Flower Press for Fun and Education
Directions for making a press, information about collecting and displaying specimens.

Parent Made Developmental Toys
Information about building and using a plant press.

Tree Identification 4-H Project
This project involves collecting, pressing, and displaying leaves as a means of tree identification. It includes reference information about leaf arrangement, types, shapes, and margins. The project was written specifically for West Virginia and includes information about local species. Teachers in other states will want to substitute information about species in their area.

Harriman and Plant Identification
A lesson plan involving the collection and classification of plants. While originally written in conjunction with a PBS program, the lesson is easily adapted to any context.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright March 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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