Native Plants and iNaturalist

Native Plants and iNaturalist

Today’s blog post is brought to you by Christine Favilla.


During phase 3 of the State of Illinois’ “Stay at Home” order, youth are able to get out into their neighborhoods while still maintaining social distancing practices. Keeping students engaged in STEM learning is paramount to the SIUE Y-CITYSCI project’s continuation, so they learn how to be citizen scientists. Online apps are an easy, free, and engaging way to keep us connected to students in our region–and students everywhere–while allowing them to use environmental health monitoring techniques to gather, analyze, and share data in their community and the larger science community. iNaturalist is a free smart-phone app that can also be downloaded onto your home computer. In an earlier blogpost you were introduced to the iNaturalist app as it pertains to the event Backyard Birds. Now, let’s look at the app through a native plant lens. 

To begin, the word “native” can be defined as of indigenous origin or growth. In other words, it means they are from this space. Native plants originated here and grow well with the amount of sunlight and rain we get, as well as the types of soils found in this area. The plants have evolved with the other native species, too, such as native butterflies that help pollinate them and other native plant species that provide them shade or cover as they transform from a seedling into a full flower, bush, or tree. This is important when you think of the native songbirds we are so used to seeing: the chickadees need to eat a specific caterpillar to grow into a beautiful backyard bird. Thus, the native plants attract the butterflies to lay the eggs on that plant, the eggs grow into caterpillars that eat the plants, and the chickadees eat those caterpillars to grow into the adult birds we are used to seeing. When we consider why a specific animal species is present in our community, we can better understand how important plants and other creatures are to the environment. So, if you want native song birds in your neighborhood, planting or helping native plants live is the best way to ensure you hear that “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” chirp.

But, how do you know if the plants you see in your yard, park, and along the roads are native or not? The iNaturalist app is the simplest way, simply take a picture of the plant and it will tell you what you are observing. If you are interested in finding out more about the plants around your neighborhood follow the steps below!

  • Download the iNaturalist App or visit:
  • Take a picture of a plant in your yard, neighborhood, or even on the roadside, as highway departments have recently been mapping and planting native plants to preserve prairie habitat, limit accidental mowing, and decrease herbicide spraying of native prairie remnants 
  • Upload the picture under the “Observe” button on the app
  • Hit “Next”
  • Tap the “What did you see/View suggestions” line
  • Watch as the app populates with possible plants! While the format of iNaturalist allows other users and past submissions to help you ID plant species, we encourage you to try to figure it out on your own, too! This website has an easy to use, visual identifier.
  • Tap the green “Share” button to log the plant at its exact location!

If you are interested in participating in local science, take some time out of your day to observe the local plants and enter them in the app. When you do this, you help others gain insight into the health of our ecosystems in southwest Illinois. The data you collect are valuable information for scientific research, such as shifts in local pollution levels, habitat loss, climate change, and migration timing.

Remember, when people engage in this type of information gathering and sharing, they are active in citizen science!