Finding Stuff in this Blog
This blog is a collection of short "essays," I guess you would call them, on a variety of topics. Most relate in some way or other to plants, but not all. What is in this collection? Can we find any of it after the fact?
There is an item called "Category Index" in the menu bar at the top of this page. That is the index for the whole blog -- at least to the extent that I manage to get a given plant species or particular subject that is discussed in the blog entered into the Category file. The category file is divided into two sections: the first lists all the plants I have mentioned, by genus. The second is a list of broad topics I have mentioned; it's perhaps a bit arbitrary but the broad topics are at least listed in alphabetic order.
In checking the category file for some collection-keeping topics, I found nothing. So, I will talk a bit about what data to keep, how to keep it, and something about labeling pots and plants.
A formal collection of anything is worth far less that it might be if there are no data recorded for the items in the collection. This applies to postage stamps, to salt and pepper shakers, to oil paintings, and most definitely to plants.
There are two ways that collectors, botanic gardens, and museums generally record data: traditionally, in a bound notebook using pen and ink; more recently, in an electronic database. Since I am old enough to still have a healthy distrust of electronic devices and stored data, I start with an entry in a bound notebook for every new plant, bulb, or batch of seeds that I acquire. Once the acquisition, which museums refer to as an "accession," is noted on its own page in the currently active notebook, you can go ahead and do things like add it to the electronic database, plant it, and put it in the greenhouse.
The first thing to do in entering the new accession in the data system is to assign it a unique Accession Number. This is like a serial number. I may have six different accessions of Haemanthus coccineus, so each one has to have its own accession number. For each one, I also record when I received the plant or seeds, and where it came from. For instance, some years back I got three different batches of Haementhus coccineus seeds, all from Silverhill Seeds in South Africa. But one batch of seeds was collected in the Richtersveld region, another batch on the Gifberg, and the third batch at Bainskloof. Each batch has its own separate accession number.
So the first and most essential items of information that must be recorded are
- Accession number
- Date of acquisition
- Name of plant (as received)
- Name of supplier
- Location where found
The data entry for one of those accessions would look like this:
- Accession number: 256
- Genus: Haemanthus
- Species: coccineus
- Date of acquisition: 29 May 1997
- Name of supplier: Rachel Saunders, Silverhill Seeds
- Location where found: Richtersveld, South Africa
There are myriad other data that one might want to record for an acquisition, but these are the absolute barest minimum.
When one adds more data fields, the need for additional tables can also arise. Most likely, when one accession has proliferated until you have it in several different places. Then you need a Locations data table, related back to the original table through the Accession Number. If you record blooming times, you need a Bloom table for those, again linked back to the original table through the Accession Number. These subordinate tables can contain multiple records for any given entry in the original table -- you have one-to-many relationships between the data in the records in the original table (the one) and in the subordinate tables (the many). The group of related tables becomes a relational database.
Note that the botanical name(s) is(are) not the primary index field. The name as received is often wrong. Botanical names change as taxonomic and phylogenetic research progresses. You don't want to have to hunt through several separate data tables and perhaps dozens of records in each to find and change all the Plant Name fields when a revision shows up in the botanical literature. The Accession Number is always the primary datum, not the plant name.
For most home gardeners, a relational system is just not necessary. A simple spreadsheet in Excel or OpenOffice Calc will work just fine. The relational system is necessary for botanical gardens, botanists, and serious plant collectors to whom local ecotypes, subspecies, and rarities of all sorts are important.
Every pot needs to be identified. Every plant needs to be identified. One way or another, this is almost always done with a plastic or metal label on which information is written. The writing is where the trouble starts -- most writing fades with time. Beyond that, labels get pulled up, carried away, or blown away by the winds. Keeping your plants labeled can be a constant battle.
The label is the essential link between the actual plant and the data describing it. When that link is broken, the data entry for it becomes bare and the plant becomes valueless.
The label should bear, at the least, the Accession Number. All other data are optional on the label. I like to put, in addition, the botanical name, the date planted, and the dates when this particular plant has been repotted or divided.
Gardeners like to write on their labels with felt-tip markers, especially the Sharpie® brand. While convenient to use, this type of marker tends not to be weather- and ultraviolet-proof. I prefer to use either soft lead pencil, which will last as long as any of the plastic labels will, or a printed label. The plastic labels themselves eventually get brittle and crack if they are not otherwise lost.
To keep the label from becoming separated from the plant, many collectors bury one copy of the label in the pot with the plant, and then they add a second one above ground for display.
Printed labels must be both water-proof and UV light proof. Brother makes a printer and some label tapes that meet this requirement. The Brother P-Touch line of printers and the laminated TZ-tapes are what I recommend.
Plastic labels come in all shapes and sizes, in either vinyl or polystyrene. Metal labels are also available. I get metal labels from A.M. Leonard, and I prefer the vinyl pot labels 5/8-inch wide by 5 or 6 inches long for most pots, and metal labels with zinc plates approximately 1 inch by 2½ wide with 10-inch stainless steel legs for larger pots. I use the 1/2-inch wide and the 1-inch wide tapes in black printed on white.
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Good gardening, from here in central Indiana
Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology