I want to protect my herbarium specimens. They vary in thickness quite a bit.

Initially, I looked into using a laminator, thinking that would do the trick by acting like a vacuum-formed shell. Such a shell would accommodate a range of thicknesses, protect the specimens from handling, and seal out air. But since laminating film doesn't stretch, and laminating machines don't accommodate significant thickness, I'm looking for another solution.

What method is there to seal in, protect, and preserve my herbarium?

  • 1
    What kind of herbarium specimens do you have? In my experience (managing herbarium specimens), the actual plant material can range from relatively smooth, flat, less-than-a-millimeter thick leaves, to rough, stems up to 1/4 inch, to inch-thick cattail inflorescences. Not that I've laminated any of them, but I assume they would have different requirements.
    – csk
    Feb 17, 2022 at 1:48
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    Lamination film is not at all stretchy. For something like a flat leaf roughly the thickness of paper sitting on a background sheet, you could get lamination film to conform around it (it would basically be the glue layer shifting). It doesn't behave like a vacuum former.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 17, 2022 at 2:01
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    Lamination definitely doesn't work by "creating a vacuum," it's more like "sticking two pieces of tape down on each other." Anywhere where there's something between the lamination sheets, there will also be a pocket of air surrounding it.
    – Allison C
    Feb 17, 2022 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


I had a lot of misconceptions before researching this. I assumed many leaves would become so brittle, they would crumble at a touch, and specimens would slowly degrade, due to bacteria and mold, and chemical reactions within the plant material and with air and humidity. I envisioned needing to initially disinfect the specimens, then after drying, hermetically sealing them away from air, humidity, and handling. It turns out the specimens are actually pretty tough and stable.

Bacteria and fungii don't feed on the specimens once they're dry. There can be some color changes during the drying process, but dehydration stops the kind of chemical activity that goes on inside the plant. Mounting the specimens minimizes flexing and adds a little strength.

As far as environmental conditions, keeping the ambient temperature and humidity stable, and the humidity below the point that supports mold growth, is apparently enough to keep the specimens in good shape. It isn't necessary for them to be hermetically sealed.

Collections at museums and universities can date back hundreds of years. The storage rooms are probably controlled for temperature and humidity, but the specimens are just mounted on heavy, acid-free paper, and basically stacked. A typical setup is cabinets containing stacks of what look like acid-free manilla folders. Within the folders are bundles of specimen sheets with a protective sheet between them. Specimens that are too thick to mount on paper are just stored in boxes.

So it looks like protecting the specimens is mostly at the front end. Once they're properly pressed, dried, and mounted, they don't need more than common sense precautions in storage and handling.

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