Forest Speaks

How to identify a plant

The first Flora of Barro Colorado Island was published in 1927 by Paul Stanley. The most recent Flora was published by Tom Croat in 1978.

There are 1,369 plant species listed in the 1978 Flora of Barro Colorado Island. Barro Colorado is one of only a few areas of tropical forest in the world where all of the plants have been identified. This is a photo of Tom Croat on a rainy day.

  1. Obtain a collection permit.
  2. Look for the plant you are interested in.
  3. Observe the plant carefully and note:

    where is it growing?

    what color are its fruits, its leaves, its flowers?

    how does it smell?

    how big is it?

    does it have spines, glands, or other structures?

    Carmen Galdames
    , herbarium worker, records information about dried plant specimens.

    Carmen uses a dissecting microscope to examine a plant as she tries to identify it.

    Blanca Arauz mounts dried specimens on herbarium paper

  4. Take a photo or draw a picture. These drawings were made by Rolando Pérez, a plant researcher on Barro Colorado.

  5. Collect samples of all of the parts of the plant: leaves, flowers, fruit.

  6. Place the plant in a PLANT PRESS between two sheets of newspaper.

  7. Put the press in a PLANT DRIER, a warm cabinet which dries the specimens slowly.

  8. Mount the dried plant on an HERBARIUM SHEET a large piece of white paper.

  9. Place a LABEL on the sheet with all of the information that was collected about the plant.

  10. Study the dried plant and compare it to other specimens in other collections. Use a description of plants called a FLORA to help you to identify your specimen.

You may discover a new species!