Plants of Concern

Citizen Science Rare Plant Monitoring Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is Plants of Concern?

A. Plants of Concern is a citizen science effort to understand rare-plant populations in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. A program of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Plants of Concern has engaged volunteers in floristic research since 2000.

Q. What is citizen science?

A. Citizen science is the participation of nonprofessional scientists in research.

Q. What kind of data do volunteers collect?

A. Plants of Concern volunteers visit rare-plant populations and collect data that describes that population as well as what else is happening in the population area. For example, volunteers may visit a population of a native orchid, like the small white lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium candidum), where they would search for and count the number of plants, measure the size of the area over which they occur, take GPS readings that can be used to re-visit the population in future years, and evaluate associated native and invasive plants as well as other potential threats. We also ask monitors to record any management efforts they observe, which helps us to connect population trends to management activities.

Q. Why should I volunteer? 

A. Plants of Concern volunteers make important contributions to conservation of rare plants, which are important components of a healthy, biodiverse landscape. The loss of just one species, or the introduction of a new one that is detrimental to its habitat, can set off a chain reaction that affects biodiversity and weakens our planet’s fragile ecosystem. More than a quarter of the world’s plant species face extinction. Volunteers are critical in the work to address these environmental challenges, plant by plant.  See our Impact section for more information.

Q. Are volunteers also considered Chicago Botanic Garden volunteers?

A. Yes! Plants of Concerns volunteers receive the same benefits and recognition as other Garden volunteers. Benefits include:

  • The volunteer newsletter “Grounds Cover,” with news about the Garden and volunteer activities
  • Emergency notification of Garden closings
  • Free Garden membership if you contribute 150 hours in the previous calendar year.
  • Admission to the Model Railroad Garden (with 30 volunteer hours in the previous year)
  • Free tram tours of the Garden (with 30 volunteer hours in the previous year)
  • Invitations to free lectures, volunteer meetings, and volunteer recognition events

Q. Where do volunteers monitor plants?

A. Volunteers monitor across northeastern Illinois and in parts of northwestern Indiana, primarily on land owned by state and county agencies, such as park districts, forest preserve districts, and departments of natural resources. We no longer monitor in Wisconsin, but if you are interested in Wisconsin monitoring, visit:

Q. Do I have to be an expert botanist?

A. It helps to have some familiarity with plant identification, but you do not need to be an expert. The biggest requirement is to have an interest in plants, keen observational skills, and a willingness to learn.

Q. What kind of time commitment will I need to make?

A. The minimum commitment is visiting one population once, possibly twice, during the time when it would be reproductive (e.g., flowering).  Some monitors choose to take on more than one population.

Q. Are there any physical requirements or hazards?

A. Monitors walk to plant populations, often off-trail through brush or other vegetation, while carrying equipment. Bending and stooping to count populations is often necessary. There is considerable variation in the physical challenge of monitoring different populations, and we try to work with our monitors to find an appropriate assignment. Volunteers may also be exposed to ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, and poison ivy, as they would during most outdoor activities. 

If you would like to volunteer but have concerns related to the physical requirements, contact us to discuss further.

Q. Will I need any special equipment?

A. Although some of our monitors obtain a set of equipment for themselves, equipment is available for loan from Plants of Concern and many of our partner agencies.  Equipment used includes GPS units, measuring tapes, compasses, and flagging.  Populations are often in areas that are best accessed by car, though in some cases public transportation or a bicycle can be used to access populations.

Q. Is there an age minimum for Plants of Concern monitors?

A. You must be 15 years old to volunteer with the Chicago Botanic Garden, though we have worked with younger interns on a case-by-case basis. 

Q. How can I become a volunteer?

A. Visit our Volunteer page to learn more!

Q. What is the training session like and when is it offered? 

A. Weekend training sessions are offered in rotating locations throughout the region in March and April. See our Opportunities page for more information.

Q. Why is a background check required for volunteers?

A. It is of the utmost importance that we at the Chicago Botanic Garden do our best to ensure a safe and secure environment for our volunteers, our staff, and the community members that we serve. To this end, we have adopted a policy to conduct background checks on all volunteers.

Q. Do I need to sign up for a Plants of Concern account?

A. Approved volunteers should sign up for an account. An account allows monitors to access and submit data. When a monitor registers for an account, POC staff verifies the request and we then work to find an appropriate assignment.

Q. What kinds of things are you learning from the data collected by volunteers?

A. Please see our Impact page to learn about how Plants of Concern and our citizen scientists are making a difference for rare plants.