Flora Connections is a citizen science project that gives botany enthusiasts a standardised data sheet to record details about plant populations that are suffering from fire, climate change, human activities, and other threats.
Data from Flora Connections surveys can be used to get plants into an IUCN Red List Threatened Category, which helps conservationists and ecologists access funding to address the threats facing them.
First, you choose a species. This could be one of Australia’s priority species near you, or you might have noticed a decline in the health or number of a plant species in your area that you’d like to focus on. After identifying this plant, you fill out our data sheet with information about the plant’s habitat, relevant threats, its abundance, and so on. Finally, you upload your data to us.
We encourage repeated surveys of the same plant species in the same location, but surveys are not timed or scheduled, which means that your participation is flexible.
Species can be absent from a place where they once grew because of fire, clearing, disease or other threats. Recording the absence of a species is excellent data, so please fill out your data sheet! We want to know how long you spent searching, and what disturbances or potential threats you can see in the area. You can also make notes about when the species was last seen in this area in the ‘Survey notes’ section of the data sheet.
If you’re not sure what family or genus the plant is in, start with field guides for your area. These books provide photos, drawings, and brief descriptions to help you narrow down what your plant might be. Some field guides are even available as phone or tablet apps, such as the excellent Plants of South Eastern New South Wales.
Once you have an idea what your plant might be, it’s important to confirm this using a key. These often have great glossaries (including sketches of leaf and fruit shapes, for example), and provide dichotomous keys (a branching path of yes/no questions based on the physical appearance of the plant) that help you confirm the identity of the plant species you’re looking out, ruling out other possible lookalikes.
Some online resources include:
If you would like other people to double-check your plant identification, another great option is to use the iNaturalist app (free on iOS and Android). Upload your sighting with good, clear photos of important diagnostic features like the front and back of leaves, how leaves attach to the stem, the size and shape or fruits and flowers, and so on. The app will try to identify the plant by itself, and other users can come and confirm whether the ID is right or not.
It’s important to be careful with location data for native species. Illegal collectors can target rare plants, especially orchids and succulents. Don’t share rare species locations publicly or with people you don’t know.
Be especially careful with data for plants that are:
If you are uploading a sighting to iNaturalist, you can set the Geoprivacy of your sighting to Obscured or Private if you think it should to be left undisturbed.
If you are looking for native plants it is important not to bring new diseases or threats to the area. Make sure you clean your shoes before your visit by scrubbing and washing with methylated spirits. Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles in the bush, and be careful where you step.
Flora Connections is a citizen science collaboration between Western Sydney University, the Atlas of Living Australia, and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, and funded by the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery for Wildlife and their Habitats grants program.
The Flora Connections team is Ruby Stephens, Rachael Gallagher, and Erin Roger. The website was made by Desi Quintans. Sophia Amini and Lauren Goodwin created the Flora Connections logo and undertook initial planning for the project.