The Purpose of Making a Plant Specimen

Identifying the plant

It’s often not easy to find the name of a particular plant by just looking in a reference book, viewing photographs or reading a description. But when you see the actual specimen and use a magnifying glass or microscope to check the plant’s size or observe its characteristics you will then be able to make an identification.

Checking plant characteristics and variations

Humans have different faces and other physically distinguishing characteristics. Plants of the same species also differ in characteristics depending on the habitat and the individual plant. By looking at archived specimens in a herbarium, we can see the morphological variances without having to visit the habitat where the plant was collected. If a plant specimen is correctly collected and stored, a DNA sample can be extracted and analyzed to determine the plant’s genealogy and derivation.

Seasonal variations

Plants continually change with the seasons. If you collect a branch from the same tree several times during the year and make a specimen for each season, you can determine when the plant blooms and when it grows fruit. If the specimens are collected from various habitats over many years, you will also be able to see the differences throughout the seasons and the variations among habitats.

Habitats and their diversity

Plants are a critical indicator of what’s happening in the natural environment. The natural environment of a habitat changes according to the vegetation transition, changes in climate, human activity and other factors. When the natural environment changes, a particular species may have become extinct or a new or alien species may have invaded the environment. Plant specimens are proof that the plant was living in that habitat and provide a hint about historical changes in that particular location.


If you want to declare a new species, international standards require specifying the type specimen and archiving it in a herbarium.
If you have a question about taxonomy in your research, you can check the type specimen. A type specimen is the most important specimen in biotaxis and is strictly archived in a herbarium. See more about type specimens.

Research proof

In the natural sciences, research is based on objective proof. However, the name of the organism used for research material is not always correct because of incorrect classification criteria or an identification error. Today, when you publish research in an academic paper or journal, a “voucher specimen”* should have already been archived in a public herbarium. This ensures that if there are questions about the research material later, the voucher specimen can be checked.

"A voucher herbarium specimen is a pressed plant sample deposited for future reference. It supports research work and may be examined to verify the identity of the specific plant used in a study. A voucher specimen must be deposited in a recognized herbarium committed to long-term maintenance." (University of Florida Herbarium.

Available to Everyone

There are many reasons people like to gather plants and make plant specimens. But when your specimen is archived in a museum or university herbarium, it is available for the use of many. All specimens made properly by anyone for any purpose have an academic value. Your specimen can be donated to a museum, botanical garden or university herbarium. Your specimen may have significant value.

Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
The new greenhouse features 1,700 tropical and subtropical plants.