Get Involved

Plants of Concern enlists the help of volunteers to collect data on rare plant species throughout the Chicago region. Interested in joining our ranks as a Plants of Concern monitor? Fantastic! This page gives an overview of what it takes to monitor plants.

Learn How to Monitor

When we "monitor" rare plants we are following a set of steps, or protocol, to record our observations. Plants of Concern developed a standard monitoring protocol with a complimentary data sheet to ensure all of our volunteers record their observations the same way. A standardized monitoring protocol improves the quality of the data and will contribute to research on rare plant conservation.

We hold training workshops in the Spring to teach new volunteers our monitoring protocol. Sessions last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and include classroom instruction and field exercises to familiarize volunteers with our protocol. These training sessions are held in different locations across our monitoring region in each year. Group monitoring forays can serve as field training for enthusiastic volunteers who were not able to attend a workshop in a given year, but a workshop must be attended in the following year.

Check out our News & Events page for workshops and additional training opportunities! 

Monitor Rare Plant Populations

After completing the necessary training, volunteers are given assignments (specific sites and POC species to monitor). Rare plant monitors are expected to visit their assigned subpopulations once a year during the bloom time of the species being monitored.

Monitors will collect data on the following characteristics:

  • Location
    • Monitors will record the location of the subpopulation with GPS coordinates.
  • Population count
    • The number of individual plants within the subpopulation should be recorded.
  • Reproductive information
    • Is the species you're monitoring a perennial? Do you see some individuals with flowers and some without? Record the number of flowering and non-flowering individuals you find.
  • Associate Species
    • We want to know which native plants are growing along side POC species. List the dominant trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers within the population.
  • Invasive Species and Negative Impacts
    • Are any aggressive species from places like Europe or Asia invading the population? Document which species and how much of the subpopulation is impacted.
    • Take a look around the subpopulation, do you notice new trails forming or that deer have browsed the species you're monitoring? Record this on the data sheet and take detailed notes!
  • Management
    • Any form of management that has taken place within the subpopulation should also be listed. Is there ash left from a burn that took place in the spring or do you see piles of removed invasive brush? 
  • Volunteer Information
    • Who helped you monitor and for how long? List everyone who helped and how long it took to find the population, count, and record all relevant observations.

After collecting all of this data in the field, monitors should submit their results to us via our online data submission.

Submit Reports

To submit monitoring reports online, volunteers must have an account with

Creating an Account

After attending a workshop and filling out a volunteer application, POC staff will provide volunteers with an account. New account holders will receive an email with instructions on setting a password and filling out contact information.

Accessing Data

Access to our data is restricted in order to protect the populations of rare plant species that we monitor. Volunteers with assignments can access data about their assigned populations through their POC account. All other requests for data will be reviewed by POC and its partners.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Plants of Concern?

Plants of Concern is a community science effort to identify and assess rare plant populations in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. A program of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Plants of Concern has engaged volunteers in data collection since 2000.

What is community science?

Community science is the participation of nonprofessional scientists in research.

What kind of data do volunteers collect?

Plants of Concern volunteers visit and collect data on rare plant populations and their habitats. 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. Monitors also record any management efforts they observe, which helps assess how management affects population trends.

Why should I volunteer? 

Plants of Concern volunteers 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. Volunteers are critical in the work to address these environmental challenges, plant by plant.

Are volunteers also considered Chicago Botanic Garden volunteers?

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

Where do volunteers monitor plants?

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:

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.

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. Volunteers often re-visit the same population year after year.

Are there any physical requirements or hazards?

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.

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 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.

Is there an age minimum for Plants of Concern monitors?

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

How can I become a volunteer?

You must attend a training session and complete a volunteer application and background check.

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

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

Why is a background check required for volunteers?

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 volunteers.

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

If you are an approved volunteer POC staff will provide an account for you.

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

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