|Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) is an invasive plant that can form large, dense patches. To help improve Knotweed treatment, researchers at the University of Minnesota are engaging citizen scientists to observe the plant's phenology.|
Although winter weather is hanging on, spring will arrive, and with it come opportunities to be a citizen scientist. Three plant-related projects are described below. Following them are websites for many more, involving a range of interests. Many are suitable for families, and some can be completed indoors or out.
The University of Minnesota seeks volunteers to observe the phenology (life stages) of Wild Parsnip or Japanese Knotweed, two invasive plants that are spreading in the state. Using Nature’s Notebook, observers record initial growth, leaves, flowers and fruits throughout the growing season. The observations will help researchers understand the influence of temperature on plant growth and the best time to manage these truly pesky plants.Volunteers can begin now. To get started, open the link above or visit the Nature’s Notebook webpage.
This project needs volunteers to monitor nectar sources for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Using Nature’s Notebook, observers record the flowering time of one or more plants identified as important food sources for pollinators in their state. The data will help researchers assess changes to nectar sources that could affect Monarchs and other insects.
In Minnesota there are 26 plants on the Nectar Connector list, including Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Black-eyed Susan (Rudeckia hirta), and Scarlet Beebalm (Monarda didyma), a garden favorite. All 26 plants are common in backyards, parks, pollinator plantings, restored prairies or even untended areas, where two thistles on the list might be at home.
A search tool generates a list of Nectar Connector plants in each state. On the Plants and Animals page for Nature’s Notebook, tick “Plants” and choose a state. Then, under Advanced, choose the Nectar Connectors Campaign from the Plant Group menu. Scroll down to see the selection of plants to choose from.
Depending on the plant or plants chosen, volunteers can begin observing this spring, summer or fall. Click on the link above to get started.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service wants to know more about the distribution of wild mulberry trees in Minnesota.
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) is a native species that reaches the northern end of its range in Minnesota. So far, it’s been documented in only one or two southeastern counties, including one report in 2021. A 2014 discovery is recounted in The Rarest Tree, an article in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.
White Mulberry (Morus alba) was introduced from Asia centuries ago with the hope of developing silk production in the U.S. (Silkworms feed mostly on white mulberry.) The industry failed, but the tree has spread and is now considered invasive. It isn’t regulated in Minnesota, but it’s restricted in Wisconsin, where it’s so widespread that the only practical response is to limit its transport and introduction.
Knowing more about the abundance and distribution of these species could kickstart additional research. If Red Mulberry is declining despite warmer, wetter conditions in the southeast part of the state, scientists might want to learn why. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if White Mulberry proves to be abundant, widespread and aggressive, scientists might need to develop a management plan.
To aid this potential research, volunteers look for wild (not cultivated) mulberries throughout the growing season and report the locations in iNaturalist. The website linked above includes tips to identify each species and their hybrid.
Check the websites below for more opportunities to participate in citizen or community science.
Community Science | Audubon Minnesota
Forest Pest First Detector | UMN Extension
AIS Detectors Program | Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) (umn.edu)
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project | The Monarch Joint Venture
eBird - Discover a new world of birding...
Cedar Creek: Eyes on the Wild — Zooniverse
Nature's Notebook | USA National Phenology Network (usanpn.org)
These websites list additional programs, but some of them are completed and others have broken links.
Community Science — Minnesota Academy of Science (mnmas.org)
Citizen Science @ UMN | Citizen Science
Citizen Science - Bell Museum (umn.edu)