During fall 2018, I found myself right at home in the basement of the geology building in the paleobotany prep lab. As a task for my research assistantship, I undertook a project to conserve and prepare fragile type and figured fossil plants for transport to their repository institution, the US National Museum (Smithsonian). Type and figured collections are particularly important because they are records of biodiversity forever tied to the published, peer reviewed literature they appear in, and need to be physically, permanently available for future reference. These fossils were a part of a senior thesis done by a past PSU student, Dan Danehy in 2007 (publication here). They are from an Eocene plant locality called Red Hot Truck Stop, collected from Meridian, Mississippi in 2000 (site history here). These fossils are in a very fragile mudstone rock matrix that crumbles and flakes easily, and many were already broken up into many pieces and needing repair. In order to support the newly repaired and organized fossils on their travels to Washington D.C. from State College, and insure their longevity in the collections there, I used a technique usually implemented on fossil vertebrates: cradle mounts.
I was familiar with this method from my time at DMNS. While I had never seen cradle mounts used on plant fossils, it seemed like a perfect solution to support the mudstone matrix so the fossils wouldn't get jostled and broken in their specimen trays as they were moved in their drawers. I reached out to my stellar past co-worker at DMNS, collections manager Kristen MacKenzie, who shared resources and tips on how to do cradle mounts. It ended up working great, and was a huge improvement for the collection! I wrote up my own protocol describing the tools and process that worked for me.