For some reason, plant taxonomists can’t keep still. For example, some years ago, just as soon as I had committed the botanical name of a lovely yellow fringed orchid (Habenaria ciliaris) to my sputtering memory, these absolutists decide to change the entire genus of the plant to Platanthera ciliaris. Now how am I supposed to remember that one? Even worse, now I am obliged to change out pricey plant identification signs that accompany the nature trails.
So I decided to embrace change. I removed the pricey plant identification signs and instead developed an attractive low-cost signage system that I can produce with my own office equipment. And this is all due to a wonderful invention called ‘plastic paper.’ Plastic paper is 100% plastic and does not rip, wrinkle or degrade easily, even when used outside. Plastic paper is available in standard 8.5” x 11” formats and can be found in office supply stores. Best yet, they can be run through my own laser printer (inkjet prints will flake off over time and are not color fast). To make the signs, I developed an 8” x 8” template on my word processing program and left room for accompanying graphics. Standard printer ink dyes will fade in the intense summer sun, but the black ink of laser printers actually fuse to the plastic paper and last a long time. I simply use a wax color pencil (found in art supply stores) to add color to the plastic print.
The sign post itself is also produced in-house and customized to fit in with the center’s architectural style. I use a 4” x 6” x 48” post, that is notched and stained to provide visual interest, and I simply tamp it 12” into the ground. By not using concrete footings, the sign is movable yet not too easily removed by vandals. To hold the plastic interpretive sign, I made an 8” x 8” wooden backing plate which secures into the post, and had a local plastic fabrication shop create a plastic cover that attaches to the backing plate and protects the sign. The last time that I ordered materials, it cost about $25 for all the materials for one sign. Here’s the kicker– the first plastic interpretive signs that I made were in 1992– and they are still out there today, and look just fine.
The advantages of this method are obvious, I can customize the sign content and graphics to suit plants, animals and habitats that are found along the nature trails. And they are easy to construct. If a colony of oyster mushrooms crop up along the trail, I can have a sign written and installed within an hour. Even better though, when the taxonomists change their collective minds for plant names, I can keep up with them as fast as my printer will allow. –Bob