Plant pressing is a simple and easy way to notice details and beauty in the natural world. It’s also a great way to record local biodiversity and appreciate the seasonality of a place. Not sure where to start? This article will cover the basics of plant pressing and also offer three tips from “the pros.”
Whether you’re a plant collecting expert or someone looking to get crafty, we hope to provide a bit of knowledge and inspiration! You can also refer to our additional resources and video links at the bottom of this page.
Plant Pressing 101 for the Botanically Inclined
Plant pressing is a way to arrange flowers and plants between sheets of paper and cardboard, and apply pressure via straps or weight—plant presses come in a variety of sizes and make this part of the process easy.
Humans have collected and preserved plants for thousands of years. Botanists in China started collecting and preserving plants over 5,000 years ago, but humans probably started collecting plants long before it was recorded in history.
After its “modern” roots in China and Japan, plant pressing gained popularity among English & Scottish botanists, who sent pressed plants to museums for collections.
Today, plant pressing is an art form, a hobby, and even a ritual that invites people to study their natural world in detail. You do not have to be a professional botanist or herbalist to start collecting and preserving plants. With time, you will learn the little tricks and to press your own plants, while of course respecting and avoiding certain species along the way.
Please note: Plant pressing is not exclusive to plants. In fact, lichens and other fungi can offer mesmerizing results to keep, or share!
How Do I Press Plants?
Like many nature crafts, the best way to learn is by doing. Plant pressing is the same way. Please respect certain plants, such as rare wildflowers and protected species, as well as certain species that might cause allergic reactions. For example, it’s good to review if there is poison oak or poison sumac in your area before you go picking!
Plant pressing is also a great activity with kids, following the usual precautions as a parent, guardian, teacher, etc. Young children especially might be excited to “taste” certain plants. Unless you are a local expert on edible plants, or with a local expert, please refrain from doing so!
In general, plant pressing is an easy and fun activity. First, you need to find a space to collect some materials to press. Perhaps you have a few house plants that can spare a leaf or two, or a backyard and neighborhood worth exploring! If you have a rapport with a neighbor who has a lovely garden, you can explain the craft to them and ask if they have any flowers they’d be willing to share.
You can even thank them later with a homemade card featuring their pressed flowers!
Once you have your plants, shake any dust or dirt clumps from them. Make sure your plants aren’t wet with dew—if they are, let them dry for a few hours!
Then, trim your plants so that you don’t have woody stems between your blotting paper. (This helps keep the pressed material flat). Using your press, take your trimmed plants and arrange onto blotting paper (included in most press kits). You can always get refills with just “blotting paper” so you don’t have to purchase a new kit.
Make layers of your pressed, trimmed plants, adding cardboard ventilators too. When you have all your layers, strap your press down with the thick rubber bands (if using our Field Press) or straps (if you’re using our medium plant presses).
Now the magic of the plant press: time! How long is enough time before you can check on your pressed plants? At least a week—perhaps two for good measure!
3 Tips for Plant Pressing
Like most activities, the best way to get started is to start simple. Don’t get weighed down by the nitty and gritty ways to make the “perfect” pressed plant. Have fun, collect a few flowers or grasses, and get pressing!
Tip #1: Less is More
When pressing plants, it’s easy to get excited and fill your press to the brim; however, blotting paper works best when your plants have some air. Air circulation also helps dry the plants and prevent mold or rotting.
Resist the urge to pack your blotting paper completely with plants, as this can also make peeling plants away from each other tricky, once they are dry and delicate.
Tip #2: Use the News
Add layers of newspaper, if you have it, between the blotting paper. This is not 100% necessary, so if you don’t have newspaper pages, press on anyway!
Some people find that newspaper pages help with absorbing excess liquid from the plants, as they dry.
Tip #3: Label Your Plants
Even if you don’t know what your plant species are, get a sharpie or fine pen, and write the date of when you found your plants. Where did you find them? Any notes?
In addition to helping with the general practice of observing nature with detail, this practice of labeling your plants will also help you track your practice.
What happens when you press plants for one week? Two? Three? When you press plants collected in the morning, are there different results than plants you collected in the afternoon? Are certain species really difficult to press without falling apart??
Labeling your plants is also a great “add-on” if you’re sharing this activity with kids. Questions beget questions, and children might want an entire lesson “follow-up” exploring the wonders of their plants.
What to Do with Pressed Plants
So you’ve collected your plants, you’ve pressed them, and you’ve waited 1-2 weeks (at least). Now what?
- Make homemade cards and write letters or poems to classmates, teachers, and loved ones.
- Make high-quality herbarium pieces, featuring your pressed plant and maybe some botanical information! Maybe you can even start your own “plant archive.”
- Try using your pressed plant material to make an entire picture. This is the ancient practice of oshibana. Whether making simple patterns or a complex landscape, this art form is a lot of fun.
- How about an “I notice, I wonder, It Reminds Me Of” journal reflection? If you’re not sure what this is, check out this lesson plan from the Beetles Project.
- Learn more about the plants you found. Join a local botanical group and see if there’s a plant pressing interest among anyone else!
Additional Resources & Videos to Explore:
- How To Make Pressed Wildflowers – great tutorial that breaks it down in sizeable pieces!
- World Wide Pressed Flower Guild – nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and ideas for pressed flower art
- The Field Museum – guide to “DIY Plant Pressing“
- Tips on Using a Plant Press – from Oregon State University
Thank you for reading our article! Feel free to add any tips or questions in our comments below.
As an independent, small business, Acorn Naturalists is committed to connecting people to nature, curiosity, and knowledge. We want to empower people of all backgrounds to take learning outside, connect with nature, and care for it.
We offer a lot of resources for plant pressing, and as a small independent business, we appreciate your support! Please visit our website for our resources, or share with a friend!
Thank you for helping us support this mission for a world with an enriched connection to science, nature, and each other.