This page gives an overview of what it takes to get started.
Complete the Plants of Concern online training.
We offer online training through a series of six video modules that you can view at any time. All modules together take approximately 45 minutes to watch. Short quizzes (less than 5 min each) separate each module. We encourage interested participants to take the online training in early spring and sign up for a group field event (foray) to find out what rare plant monitoring is all about.
Sign a confidentiality agreement.
Rare plants are at risk. In signing the confidentiality agreement you agree to not share locations of rare plant, lessening the risk of illegal collection or poaching.
(Northeastern Illinois Participants only)
Become a Chicago Botanic Garden Volunteer.
Apply to be a Chicago Botanic Garden Volunteer and agree to a background check.
Attend a foray.
Group monitoring events (forays) can serve as field training for participants who would like to get some experience before taking on an assignment of their own. These events are also a great way to meet other people who are interested in saving rare plants.
Create an account.
Plants of Concern staff will provide participants with an account. New account holders will receive an email with instructions on setting a password and filling out contact information.
Complete your assignment.
Once you're ready to monitor, staff will assign you to a site and species. You'll have access to your assignment through your Plants of Concern account. You'll visit a subpopulation once a year, when the species is most visible. The Plants of Concern mobile app allows you to navigate to the subpop, collect GPS and other monitoring data, and submit your observations to the Plants of Concern database.
Check out our News & Events page for group field events (forays) and other opportunities to learn about Plants of Concern and gain experience in rare plant monitoring!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are participants in Northeastern IL also considered Chicago Botanic Garden volunteers?
Yes! Plants of Concerns participants in Northeastern Illinois 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
Plants of Concern participants in other regions are not considered Chicago Botanic Garden volunteers.
Are there any physical requirements or hazards?
Participants 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. Participants may also be exposed to ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, and poison ivy, as they would during most outdoor activities.
If you would like to participate but have concerns related to the physical requirements, contact us to discuss further.
Do I have to be an expert botanist?
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.
Do I need to sign up for a Plants of Concern account?
Once you complete training and are ready to monitor, Plants of Concern staff will provide an account for you.
How can I participate?
You must complete online training and sign a confidentiality agreement.
To participate in Northeastern IL, in addition to the above, you need to complete a Chicago Botanic Garden volunteer application and background check.
Is there an age minimum for Plants of Concern participants?
You must be 15 years old to volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden, though younger people have participated on a case-by-case basis.
What is community science?
Community science is public participation in the inquiry and discovery of scientific knowledge; it's also known as citizen science, participatory science, collaborative science, and neighborhood science.
What is Plants of Concern?
Plants of Concern is a community science effort to locate and assess rare plant populations with the goal of promoting healthy humans and habitats. A program of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Plants of Concern has engaged participants in data collection since 2000.
What is the training like and when is it offered?
We offer online training through a series of six video modules that you can view at any time. All modules together take approximately 45 minutes to watch. Short quizzes (less than 5 min each) separate each module. We encourage interested participants to take the online training in early spring and sign up for a group field event (foray) to find out what rare plant monitoring is all about. Once your're ready to monitor, staff will assign you to a site and species.
What kind of data do participants collect?
Plants of Concern participants visit and collect data on rare plant populations and their habitats. For example, participants 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. Monitors also record any management efforts they observe, which helps assess how management affects population trends.
What kind of time commitment will I need to make?
The minimum commitment is visiting one population once during its flowering time. Some monitors choose to take on more than one population. Participants often re-visit the same population year after year.
What kinds of things are you learning from the data collected by participants?
Please see our Impact page to learn about how Plants of Concern and our community scientists are making a difference for rare plants.
Where do participants monitor plants?
Participants monitor plants across northeastern and southern Illinois, primarily on land owned by federal, state, and county agencies, such as park districts, forest preserve districts, and departments of natural resources.
Why is a background check required for participants in northeastern IL?
At the Chicago Botanic Garden we 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 northeastern IL participants.
Why should I participate?
Plants of Concern participants make important contributions to the 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. Participants are critical in the work to address these environmental challenges, plant by plant.
Will I need any special equipment?
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 measuring tapes, compasses, and stake flags. 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.