Our gardens at McEvoy Ranch are a marvel. Well over 200 species of plants from seed and bulb are planted, producing vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and ornamental grasses. This is gardens only; it doesn’t account for the orchards, vineyards, or native plants and fungi that thrive on the ranch. That got me to thinking about the challenges of cataloging botanical species, and led me to this interesting story, from GardenRant, about the EcoFlora project organized around native plant identification by the New York Botanical Gardens. Using the iNaturalist online platform developed by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, volunteers agree to take photographs of wild plants they encounter throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Once the image is uploaded, the iNaturalist community, which includes botanists from around the world, kicks in to identify the plant. This crowd sourced data is then used by the city of New York to assist in policy decisions related to natural resource management and conservation. Data is also shared with the Parks Department for further action.
While anyone is welcome to participate in the project, the city also offers classes and an Urban Naturalist certificate program to better educate its participants. The EcoQuest Challenges, held monthly, engage citizens even more by focusing on specific species. A recent Challenge centered on the Asian Bittersweet, an aggressive vine that kills trees by strangling trunks and competing for water. A check on iNaturalist shows that nearly 1,700 photographs had been made of the plant in a month. Currently there are over 3,500 volunteers signed up for the EcoQuest program, and 3,180 different species have been identified, with 44,500 photographs uploaded. Pretty impressive, NYC.