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In search of ideas for arboretum--labeling ideas

monique at bio.tamu.edu monique at bio.tamu.edu
Wed Sep 25 08:51:23 EST 1996

>Many botanical gardens and arboreta have two tags per plant.  An 
>accession tag is secured to the plant either by wiring it to a branch or 
>by nailing it to the trunk. 

May I comment?  After having seen the labeling job done both well and poorly, 
I can offer the following bits of advice:

1.  If you wire a tag to a branch of something, *please* make sure that the 
wire is not tight enough to girdle the branch, either now or in the near 
future.  Every year or two, someone should make the rounds, checking that 
wired tags are still in place and loosening those that are beginning to 
constrict their limbs.  

2.  Wired tags should be around branches large enough not 
to be part of the pruning process, if there is one.  Also remember that some 
shrubs flower on newer wood only and that someone may be coming by 
periodically to take the old growth out at ground level.  If that is the case, 
you will need to train the pruners to move the labels, or else put the label 
on a stake nearby to begin with.

3.  When attaching metal tags to tree trunks (which apparently does not hurt 
the trees appreciably, providing they're not still soft-skinned saplings), a 
better idea than nails is SCREWS.  When nails are used, the tag is often bent 
or "swallowed" by the bark as the tree grows older.  If you use screws, the 
person checking the labels or pruning the trees or whatever can easily give 
the screws a few unscrewing turns if the label starts sinking into the bark.  
This way, the label always stays right on top of the bark.  A little more work 
to install, perhaps, but much better in the long run!

4.  An accurate *map* of the campus or arboretum, with the plants marked by 
number and keyed to an identification lis--and periodically updated-- is a 
must.  Labels do get lost, stolen, chewed by maintenance equipment, etc., and 
you will need some way of re-identifying and labeling your "orphans."  Believe 
it or not, you can actually *lose* something as large as a full-grown 
Magnolia!  If it has been a a few years since you checked tags, and one died 
in the frost and one lost its tag.... which one is missing?

5. (And then I'll stop, I promise!)  If your labeling program extends to 
perennials and annuals and metal tags  are prohibitively expensive, 
consider this alternative.  Buy a set of metal venetian blinds.  Unstring the 
slats and cut them into lengths with a papercutter or good shears.  A 
permanent sharpie marker will make a label that will last a season or two and 
which can be touched up later if necessary.  You can poke the tags into the 
ground or punch holes in them and hang them from stakes.  I'm guessing that 
sturdy vinyl blinds would be less durable but would last a couple of years.

Hope this helps!

Monique Reed
Texas A&M University

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