Plant Monitors - Seed Collection - Phenology

Volunteers with an interest in native plants have three opportunities to perform field work with native plant populations at Conservation District sites. Monitors should be able to hike their assigned routes off trail, often through unmowed areas and uneven terrain.

Volunteer Plant Monitors collect data that documents species population distribution and trends for ongoing scientific field studies. Volunteers count and measure plant species in the field using standardized scientific protocol, and then submit reports to the sponsoring agency. The collected data is analyzed by scientists in order to gain a long-term picture of the ecological health of plant species that will ultimately help land managers assess the effectiveness of restoration efforts and impacts to wildlife.


  • Minimum age 18; 
  • A registered volunteer of the District & Chicago Botanic Garden;
  • Physically capable of carrying out the duties of the position;
  • The ability to walk over uneven ground off trail is necessary for field work;
  • Responsible and reliable.

Training workshops for new monitors (as well as those seeking a refresher) are held annually during late winter/early spring. After attending the training session, all plant monitors are required to register as McHenry County Conservation District volunteers as well. For more information contact the Volunteer Coordinator at 815.338.6223 x 1201 or

Plants of Concern

Plants of Concern is a monitoring program in collaboration with the Chicago Botanic Garden. Volunteers will be trained as citizen scientists to collect data on the Chicago Wilderness region’s rarest plants.  The data is then used to assess trends in plant populations and to adapt land management practices.

After completing training, volunteers will visit a rare plant population a minimum of once during its flowering time either independently or in small groups.  Multiple sites are available based on a volunteer’s preference. 

TRAINING: The Chicago Botanic Garden offers a 1-day training workshop each spring for new volunteers. For additional information and to sign up for a training workshop, go to the Plants of Concern website that volunteers must also be registered with the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 APRIL – SEPTEMBER  Flexible days of the week and times. Depending on the species being monitored, independent monitors generally have a 1–3 hour field commitment, plus data reporting.  

Seed Collection

Under the guidance of the District’s Plant Ecologist during late summer through fall, volunteers collect native prairie plant seed for use in restoration efforts at District sites. Days of the week and locations vary. There is no minimum time commitment.

No experience is necessary to help our plant ecologist collect seeds for restoration efforts on District sites. This is a great opportunity to learn in a relaxed, social setting.

Why collect seed? Plants that are adapted to our region’s climate and soils have a greater chance of survival in local restoration projects. This volunteer effort saves the District $50,000 annually. Locations vary throughout the county and are dependent on when seeds are ripe enough to pick. Volunteers are sent a weekly list of forays from which they can RSVP.  

TRAINING: Volunteers are encouraged to attend a training workshop held each August for an overview of plant identification, seed collection protocols and processing. Field training also takes place at the site.

TIME COMMITMENT/SCHEDULE: There is no minimum time commitment. Following the annual training workshop in August, seed collection forays are offered 3–4 times weekly from late summer through fall. Volunteers sign up to receive weekly emails listing upcoming staff-led forays, and can participate when convenient for them.


If you like to watch our natural areas come alive in the spring and summer, consider joining our phenology program. Volunteers will record which plants are blooming every other as part of an on-going research study with our Field Station Ecologist. A moderate knowledge of plant ID is necessary, but even more important is an enthusiasm for getting out in the field on a regular basis and willingness to learn.

TRAINING: The District offers a 1-day training workshop that is provided annually in March –  SIGN UP ONLINE.

If needed, additional field training will be available on an individual basis.

TIME COMMITMENT/SCHEDULE: Flexible days of the week and times. Depending on the site, independent monitors generally have a 1-3 hour field commitment every other week from May through September, plus data reporting.