Cheap pocket plant press

Photo of the materials listed, laid out on a work table.

(1) This pocket plant press is made from a stack of 3 x 5 index cards, salvaged corrugated cardboard, cheap watercolor paper, and rubber bands. Cut two pieces of corrugated cardboard to 3 x 5 inches. Cut two pieces of cheap watercolor paper to the same size. Find a flower, and blot it dry with paper towels.

A flower arranged on the open plant press

(2) Place one piece of corrugated cardboard down. Stack half the file cards on top of it. Place a piece of watercolor paper on top of that. Arrange the flower on this stack. Then make another stack of corrugated cardboard, file cards, and watercolor paper.

The completed stack, the flower is in the middle with its stem sticking out.

(3) Assemble the stack with the corrugated cardboard on the outside. Wrap the assembly with the rubber bands. If the stem of the flower is sticking out, you can trim it off with scissors.

Side view of the assembled stack, showing the layers.

Now let it dry for at least a week. Longer if the weather is humid, or the flower is especially moist. If you want the flower really flat, stack some heavy books on top of the plant press.

The watercolor paper takes the place of blotter paper in a real plant press. In some cases, the pressed flower may leave a colored image on the watercolor paper, so with some experimentation you should be able to use this technique to make pressed flower monoprints.

The stack of file cards makes the plant press stiffer, and helps spread the pressure of the rubber bands out evenly. You can also press several flowers in this plant press by using alternating layers of file cards, watercolor paper, and flowers.

(This is a follow up to this post. And for the finished product, see this post.)

Plant presses and nature collage art

I’m in the process of developing curriculum for a couple of different eco-spirituality programs I’ll be co-leading this summer. One of the people I’ll be working with, Jessica, a former environmental educator who’s now the DRE at the Northhampton UU congregation, floated the idea of pressing plants.

Now, plant pressing is usually done to prepare specimens for an herbarium. But Jessica found a lesson plan in the Project Wild Aquatic curriculum book which uses a plant press for a process art project. You assemble a collage of aquatic plants (or really, any kind of plant) between sheets of porous paper, and press in a plant press. As the plant is pressed, the paper absorbs some of the colors of the plant. Wait a week till it’s dry, and you have a cool collage.

This activity kind of resembles flower pounding (see lesson plan #24 on this webpage). It also introduces participants to the use of a plant press — a standard botanical tool/process — which is a nice addition.

Still working on refining this activity for use with kids in a summer camp setting. We’ll see where this leads. In the mean time, a couple of resources: Plant presses for the classroom | Herbarium Supply Co.

Update, later the same day:

Here are my instructions for a cheapo plant press, cobbled together from several online sites:

You’ll need fifty 3×5 file cards, two pieces of corrugated carboard cut to 3×5 inches, and two strong rubber bands. Place a flower in the middle of the stack of file cards. Put the rubber bands around everything (see the drawing). Let dry for a week or more. When dry, glue the dried flower to the index card using white glue.

Sketch of the flower press described in the text

Snowdrops are starting to bloom outside our front door, so in a couple of days I’ll be able to give this a try in the real world.

(And here’s the follow up post where I actually make one of these.)

Ecological consequences

Back in 2004, Brian Donahue, an environmental historian, noted:

“Beginning in the seventeenth century England was able to rationalize the production of its own countryside partly by genuine improvements, partly be replacing scarce firewood with boundless coal, and partly by drawing on its new colonies and on trade with the wider world, whether cattle from Ireland and Scotland, sugar from the West Indies, tobacco from the Chesapeake, or cod from the Grand Banks exchanged for Madeira wine. All this marked the birth of twin forces that have since transformed the relationship between people and their environment all around the world and that have remained closely related. The first was the increased substitution, via the market, of imported resources for local resources. The second was the unlocking of fossil energy, which has provided the power to both fetch and manipulate all other resources on the modern industrial, global scale and which has also had enormous environmental consequences.” — Brian Donohue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord [Mass., U.S.] (Yale Univ., 2004), p. 72.

The first of Donahue’s twin forces has resulted in the spread of invasive species; the second has resulted in global climate change. Yet as Donahue points out, these twin forces were in part human responses to seventeenth century ecological challenges. Human population in England increased during the seventeenth century, so that humans had to either figure out how to produce more food or face famines. Humans began burning coal in England because there wasn’t enough firewood to keep them warm during the Little Ice Age, and part of the reason there wasn’t enough firewood was because woodlands had been cleared to create more arable land to grow food crops.

England had faced similar problems a few centuries earlier. Donahue says that during the High Middle Ages in England:

“…it appears that a population in the neighborhood of two million (and surely well under three million) in 1086 more than doubled to something like six million by 1300…. The ecological expression of population growth was the steady expansion of the arable fields to produce more grain, at the expense of other important elements in the interlocking agrarian economy. This imbalance resulted in scarcity and degradation….” (p. 65)

In 1346, the bubonic plague put an end to England’s population growth — which temporarily solved the problems of food production and firewood scarcity.

All this is worth remembering when we’re trying to figure out the origins of the current environmental crises: it all comes back to human overpopulation.

Ecojustice Camp comes to Cohasset

I teamed up with Ngoc Dupont and Matt Mulder, two professional educators, to bring the Ecojustice Camp concept to the South Shore of Boston last week. We didn’t have the best of weather for the camp, with rain showers almost every day, and a tornado alert for early Friday morning. The tornado alert meant that we didn’t camp at Wompatuck State Park, but instead camped at the Parish House of First Parish (where there was a full basement we could retreat to if necessary). Yet in spite of the weather, we had a blast.

We’ve posted photos from the past week on the camp website. Since we only have permission to post photos from camp on that website, you’ll have to click here to see them. The photos will give you an idea of the range of camp activities — from cooking outdoors, to whittling, to ecology simulation games, and more.

Deconstruction and reconstruction

“…The term ‘postmodern’ had been used sporadically by process [theology] thinkers since the 1960s. The later French movement that gave ‘postmodernism’ wide currency reinforced many Whiteheadean criticisms of modernity, but it concluded on a ‘deconstructive’ note. Whiteheadians [and other process thinkers] joined with other constructive critics of modernity in emphasizing reconstruction.” — John B. Cobb, Jr., “Process Theology,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2007), p. 561.

Unitarian Universalists are in the direct lineage of process thought, through the contributions of thinkers like Charles Hartshorne and Bernard Loomer, both of whom were members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. And for many years, our thinking emphasized the reconstructive aspects of postmodernity. More recently, though, I’ve been feeling that we Unitarian Universalists (and I include myself in this critique) have been following the French postmodernists by emphasizing the deconstructive aspects of postmodernity. This is due, I think, to our adoption of liberal political discourse, which currently emphasizes deconstruction over reconstruction — liberal politics tends to default towards breaking down stereotypes and attacking the sacred cows of the existing social order, as opposed to trying to construct a better social order. We who ally ourselves with liberal politics know what we are against, but we sometimes find it difficult to articulate what we are for.

Speaking for myself, to get out of reactive deconstruction, it’s been helpful to think about process thought. But the process thought of Hartshorne, Loomer, et al., seems a little dated these days. Maybe for us Unitarian Universalists, the work that Dan McKanan is doing around ecospirituality is one way to be reconstructive rather than deconstructive. Although, finding myself still in a deconstructive mode, I can’t help but keep looking for someone who isn’t a Western white male….


Earlier this week, Carol and I walked on a beach in Maine where we saw two endangered bird species, Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) and Least Terns (Sternula antillarum).

Small sand-colored bird, standing in the sand, covering a chick with its wing.
Piping Plover with a nestling
Small gray and white bird nestled in the sand, perhaps sitting on a nest.
Least Tern — this bird remained stationary while we watched it, and may have been on a nest

Both these species nest on the beach above the high water mark. Nesting in the sand was a useful evolutionary adaptation for most of these birds’ existence. However, in the last hundred years as humans have used beaches more and more heavily. Many former nesting sites have either been eradicated. Other nesting sites see such heavy human use that nesting success has dropped precipitously.

Take the Piping Plover. The main strategy they use to evade predators is their cryptic coloration — when threatened, they squat down in the sand and are almost invisible. But this adaptation is counterproductive when the birds encounter over-sand vehicles (the birds and their nests get smushed), or off-leash dogs (the birds are found by smell, not sight) or oblivious humans playing on the beach (again, the birds get smushed). Then when some humans try to enact regulations to protect the birds — like restricting dog-walkers’ access to nesting areas, or prohibiting over-sand vehicles near nesting areas — many humans don’t comply with the regulations. So at another location in Maine this week, I saw a human with an unleashed dog standing right next to a marked nesting area where a few hours I had earlier seen a Piping Plover.

This is an example of how land use change and human overpopulation have caused rapid species decline over the past several decades. Now we can add another threat to these two species. Global climate change is already causing rising sea levels. If sea level rise continues, the preferred nesting locations for these birds is going to disappear.

It’s easy to sink into despair and imagine that these two species will be extinct in the next couple of decades. But while I’m not optimistic, there is still hope. Because even though humans are pushing these species to extinction, it’s also possible that they can be saved from extinction by careful human management. For that reason, I’ve decided that “management” is my new synonym for “hope.”


Beech leaf disease (BLD) has arrived in Cohasset. I’m seeing leaves on American Beeches withering and dropping off both in Wheelwright Park and in the Whitney Thayer Woods. In some places, stands of beeches have lost so many leaves that it no longer feels like you’re walking in the forest.

Withered leaves on an American Beech sapling.
American Beech sapling in Whitney Thayer woods with BLD

A scientific article from two and a half years ago — Sharon E. Reed, et al., “The distribution of beech leaf disease…,” Forest Ecology and Management, vol. 503, January, 2022 — found that BLD is a worse threat to American Beech stands than two previous invasive pathologies, beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga), and beech bark disease (C. fagisuga and Neonectria spp. complex).

Withered leaves on an American Beech sapling
American Beech sapling in Whitney Thayer Woods with BLD

An invasive nematode from east Asia, Litylenchus crenatae, is always present when BLD is present. But a scientific article from Sept., 2021 — Carrie J. Ewing et al., The Foliar Microbiome Suggests that Fungal and Bacterial Agents May be Involved in the Beech Leaf Disease Pathosystem, Phytobiomes Journal, pub. online 29 Sep 2021 — also found that organisms from four bacterial genera — Wolbachia, Erwinia, Paenibacillus, and Pseudomonas — and one fungal genus, Paraphaeosphaeria — are always present with the nematode when BLD is present.

A few withred leaves among healthy leaves in an American Beech sapling
American Beech sapling in Whitney Thayer Woods with BLD

From what I can gather, our understanding of BLD is still incomplete. However, a few things are quite clear. The University of Rhode Island suggests a couple of strategies to try to save trees from BLD: heavy applications of phosphite fetilizer twice a year, and/or application of pesticide to kill the nematodes. If trees with BLD are left untreated, they will die within 6 to 10 years. Since we cannot treat most trees in our forests, we can expect most infected American Beeches to die within a decade.

Yet another reason for eco-grief.

And this is another reminder that as dire as the situation might be with climate change, invasive species are also devastating our New England forest ecosystems. A hundred years ago, we lost our American Chestnuts to invasive Chestnut Blight. Fifty years ago, we lost most of our American Elms to invasive Dutch Elm Disease. We’re in the process of losing all our Eastern Hemlocks to an invasive insect, the Woolly Adelgid, and all our ash trees to another invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer. Now we’re losing all our American Beech trees to yet another invasive organism.

Yes we need to stop climate change, but that’s only a part of the threat to Earth’s life-supporting systems. There’s a lot of work for us to do….

“Rethinking Weeds”

The spring/summer issue of the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin features a number of essays on ecological spiritualities. I turned first to the essay by Vanessa Chakour titled “Rethinking Weeds.” As someone deeply interested in urban and suburban ecology, I was curious to see how someone might reassess the presence of weeds.

Unfortunately, the article starts off badly. In the very first paragraph, Chakour writes:

“With the combined increases of deforestation for agricultural purposes, suburban sprawl, and mass consumption of unsustainable food sources, the presence of invasive species and so-called weeds simultaneously increases. However, negative perceptions of these plants and the ‘war on invasive species’ contribute to greater ecological damage and exacerbate an adversarial relationship with the living earth by ignoring the needs of a diverse, functioning, and abundant ecosystem.”

Well… no.

Chakour claims that the “war on invasive species” (not a phrase I’ve heard widely used by field biologists and land managers) somehow contributes to “greater ecological damage.” In my experience, this simply isn’t true. As an example, consider the invasive species Yellow Star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis). In Edgewood Natural Preserve, San Mateo County, California, Yellow Star-thistle began to dominate several grassland areas in the preserve, crowding out endangered endemic species. Biologists and land managers developed a control protocol that involves mowing at specified times of the year, then hand-pulling remaining plants to keep them from re-seeding. The end result has been to greatly reduce the numbers of Yellow Star-thistle and to help repair a highly damaged ecosystem, leading to a rebound not just in endangered native plant species but also native insect pollinator species. If Chakour considers this to be part of the “war on invasive species,” then far from contributing to “greater ecological damage” it has led to repair and regeneration of a unique grassland ecosystem. I know some of the people who have worked for years to control invasive Yellow Star-thistle at Edgewood Preserve, and for Chakour to claim that these people “contribute to greater ecological damage and exacerbate an adversarial relationship with the living earth by ignoring the needs of a diverse, functioning, and abundant ecosystem” is both ignorant and insensitive.

Part of the problem is that Chakour does not adequately define what she means by “invasive species,” “introduced species,” or “weed.” Ecological scientists might define an invasive species as an introduced (non-native) species that seriously upsets the balance of an existing ecosystem, i.e., that is ecologically destructive on a wide scale. Chakour and I both live in Massachusetts. In our state, we have about 2,200 plant species, of which about 725 are introduced species; of the latter, just “72 … have been scientifically categorized by the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group (MIPAG) as ‘Invasive,’ ‘Likely Invasive,’ or ‘Potentially Invasive’,” according to Mass Audubon; only 36 species, or 5% of introduced species, are actually invasive in Massachusetts. Of the ten taxa of plant Chakour discusses in her essay, only one species is invasive here. The other 9 taxa she discusses include both native and introduced species that may or may not be classed as weeds, depending on who you talk to.

Chakour would have done better to discuss what we mean by “weeds.” We could define “weed” quite simply as a plant that a human being does not want growing where it happens to grow. To the homeowner who has been sold on the idea of a perfect green lawn, Dandelions (Taraxacum officianale) are weeds (T. officianale is not considered an invasive species here in Massachusetts). And yes, there are homeowners, golf course groundskeepers, and city parks departments who use toxic chemicals to get rid of weeds like Dandelions. Once you realize Chakour is actually writing about weeds, not invasive species — and if you remember that she’s writing about ecological spirituality, not science — then her essay makes sense.

Considered in that light, Chakour’s essay boils down to two main ideas. First, the word “weed” represents one human’s judgement, and thus may not be an accurate evaluation of a plant’s value to the wider ecosystem. Second, Chakour makes the interesting point that plants can be resources for physical and spiritual healing. Here she’s speaking as an herbalist, with what appears to be a deep knowledge of herbalism. Herbalism may be considered as a kind of ecological spiritual practice that heals both the body and the soul. So Chakour is arguing that if more people could know the health physical and spiritual benefits of some of the plants perceived as “weeds,” humans would be less likely to use toxic chemicals to get rid of those “weeds.”

It’s worth reading “Rethinking Weeds” to learn about one talented herbalist’s ecological spirituality. However, given the errors it contains, this essay should not be cited in any pragmatic discussion of land management or invasive species. This is unfortunate, because I believe ecological spiritualities could provide pragmatic help for addressing some of the big threats to Earth’s life supporting systems — but in order to do so, ecological spiritualities need to pay attention to the work of the ecologists, field biologists, climatologists, and other scientists, along with the land managers and other people who are actually out in the field working hard trying to save our planet before it’s too late.

Ecospirituality at Harvard

The spring/summer issue of the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin features essays on ecological spiritualities. Dan MacKanan, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Senior Lecturer in Divinity, provides the introduction, “Making a Space of ‘Alternative Spiritualites’,” saying in part:

“When the Divinity School committed to offering a fully multireligious master of divinity curriculum about 20 years ago, we expected to see an increasing number of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu students. That has certainly been the case. But we have also been blessed by a steadily growing number of pagans, animists, readers of the Urantia Book or a Course in Miracles, practitioners of entheogenic or queer or African diasporic spiritualities, seekers, and people who affiliate with two, three, or more traditions. This diversity … invites us to reimagine both religion and the practice of ministry.”

In other words, religion in American has expanded beyond Christianity, and beyond those “world religions.” I’m putting “world religions” in scare quotes because these were the religious traditions that were judged to be the equal of Christianity, the religious tradition which until recently was assumed by many Western scholars to be the paradigm of all religion.

So McKanan and some others at Harvard Divinity School formed the Program for the Evolution of Spirituality to explore how religion was changing (or maybe to find out how our perception of religion has expanded beyond considering Christianity as the paradigm of all religion). I think I’d want to gently critique the name of this program for using the word “evolution” in the title. That’s not a value-free word, and comes freighted with all kinds of assumptions that may not be intended by the people who formed the program. In spite of that, the Program for the Evolution of Spirituality appears to be A Good Thing; I’ll be following their future work with interest.

Their first conference, held in 2022, was on ecological spiritualities. And the bulk of the spring/summer issue of the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin is devoted to essays that apparently grew out of that conference. I’ll have more to say about some of those essays in later posts….


Over the past year and a half, I’ve slowly been learning a little about botany. One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is that somewhere around one third of all plants in the wild are not native where I live here in Massachusetts. And along suburban streets, most of the plants I see are not only non-natives, they are cultivated by humans. The problem with non-native plants is that they do not fit into the existing ecosystem — they may not support native pollinators, or feed native birds, or provide food or shelter for mammals and other animals. The suburbs may look like a green landscape, but in many ways it’s a sterile green landscape.

So I was pleased to discover the “Grow Native Massachusetts” website, which provides resources for people who want to grow native plants. The tag line of the website sums it up: “Every landscape counts.” If you plant your tiny little 1/8 acre yard with native plants, you’ll be helping pollinators and birds. Heck, if you plant a container garden with native plants on the balcony of your apartment, you’ll be helping native pollinators.