Most of the specimens in the herbarium at the Manchester Museum are pressed and mounted on sheets of paper, or seeds in glass-lidded boxes or slices of tree trunk stacked in a drawer. But what if we want to preserve the structure of a flower or a fruit that’s too big to press and too wet to dry before it goes mouldy?
Well, one answer is to store the specimen in a glass jar of spirit solution. The actual compostition of this fluid varies, but is generally a mixture of water and industrial methylated spirits, with glycerol and formaldehyde.
Here in Manchester, we have around 300 spirit specimens, many of which are beautifully preserved and hopefully a few will be displayed on our new gallery, Nature’s Library. Sadly, some have been neglected, to the point where they have completely dried out and cannot be salvaged.
I have been working with our current Curatorial Trainee, Andrew Lawton, and our previous Curatorial Trainee, Gina Allnat, and volunteer Veronica, to clean, list and photograph these spirit specimens. Andrew and Gina have both written blog posts about this project.