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Botanists Big Year competition

February 3, 2018 GMT

The Illinois Native Plant Society has released its second annual report of its Botanists Big Year competition.

Using the iNaturalist app, competitors are challenged to document as many plant species as possible during the calendar year. Each observation must be confirmed to be counted, which means you have to know what diagnostic/habitat features to photograph.

Most people (including myself) use the app to hone our skills and see what others are finding, but a select few are in it to win it.

For 2017, Cassi Saari set the new record as she observed and documented 921 species/subspecies of plants. I have witnessed her botany skills in the field several times, and I am always awestruck as she rattles plant names before I can even crack open my field guides. Saari is an ecologist with “ecology + vision, a professional firm offering ecological consultation and sustainable design solutions to organizations and individuals throughout the Chicago region.”

The competition featured 1,076 participants who together recorded 18,786 confirmed observations, which included 1,455 different plant species/subspecies. According to the report, that means about 40 percent of the entire flora of the state was observed and recorded in 2017.

You can read the full report online at ill-inps.org/illinois-botanists-big-year-2017.

The 2018 Botanists Big Year already is underway, and so far, 26 participants have registered 191 species as of Wednesday, with the leader having 78 confirmed species.

You don’t have to be a botanist to participate. Anyone with the app can join in. It is great for crowdsourcing plant identifications. If you don’t know what a plant is, likely someone else does and will help you. I have learned a lot from this statewide network of plant enthusiasts.