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Wildflower Restoration Project

The Wildflower Restoration Project is a citizen science program that engages individuals in a rewarding, hands-on study that aims to restore New York forests to their original health and beauty. Participants “adopt a woodlot” in their local forests where they learn to identify native wildflowers, plant seeds and roots, and gather scientific data. Over time, participants will literally see the fruits of their efforts in the patches of forest they restore.

Why do wildflowers need our help?

New York State’s extensive farming history has left us with vast expanses of abandoned farmland, covering over fifty percent of the state. As decades have passed, native trees, shrubs, and herbs have returned to these lands, regaining their long lost territory, but something is still missing. Although many of these abandoned farms have had at least a century to recover, these forests still lack a significant number of native wildflower species. There appears to be nothing wrong with the growing conditions in these forests, so where are our wildflowers?

These plant species appear to be limited by their slow rates of dispersal. Their seeds are only able to travel short distances, and have an extremely low chance of survival. Unsurprisingly, wildflowers from older forests have migrated into these once farmed lands at an incredibly slow pace. For instance, it has taken seventy years for many of these species to spread less than 10 meters. Restoring these native plants will not only provide us with beautiful wildflowers, but will also bring back the bees, butterflies, and small mammals that rely on them. Given the Earth’s changing climate, and the key ecological roles of these wildflowers, active restoration is crucial to native forest conservation. On their own, some species moved a pathetic 10 meters in seventy years. With a little help from the community, think of how far they can get in the next seventy years.

Why collect data?

Unfortunately, we have not yet discovered the best wildflower restoration practices. We must answer questions like: How many seeds should be planted to grow a successful wildflower? Is it more efficient to plant seeds or transplant roots? How long must the root be to produce a successful plant? Not only are there many questions, but the answers will differ depending on the species of wildflower. With thirty species requiring our help in a large percentage of New York forests, we must first understand how to efficiently restore these wildflowers. Once we have discovered successful restoration techniques, we will be better equipped to organize large-scale planting efforts.

Why involve citizen scientists?

Planting and monitoring efforts will either require a lot of hands or a lot of time. By involving volunteers and school groups we can turn a need for many data-collecting hands into a valuable educational opportunity. Participants can learn about identifying native wildflowers, plant life cycles, creating experiments, and drawing conclusions from scientific data. In addition to gaining a hands-on, outdoor education, participants will gain a sense of accomplishment for contributing to a professional study that impacts their own forests. These so-called “citizen scientists” will also be given the opportunity to return to the project year after year to see how their efforts have impacted the forest. The goal is to give participants a fun and educational experience, provide the scientific community with reliable data, and grant New York forests a swift recovery.

Get Involved!

Here's How to Participate

The Wildflower Restoration Project is entirely volunteer run. To launch a local restoration, a leader is required to find volunteers, find a study site, and walk participants through the study. The resources provided on this website can guide anyone through this process.

You do not need to know anything about wildflowers before you start! If you are not comfortable with taking the lead, but wish to bring this project to your area, you can approach some local groups who may be interested. Nature centers, parks, and garden clubs are a good place to start. This hands-on, outdoor, long-term study is also a great opportunity for high school or college biology and ecology teachers.

The Interpretive Wildflower Guide will help you teach your participants about the wildflower problem facing our forests, and the plant life cycle. The Experimental Design and Data Collection Guide describes the study, and walks you through leading a restoration program. The NYS Wildflower Identification Guide will help any beginner be able to identify the wildflowers that need our help.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have decided to launch a restoration project in your area, great! Once you have found a site and a group of participants, let us know so we can help you succeed.

Contact Us

Dr. Gregory G. McGee
Environmental Biology
146 Illick Hall, SUNY ESF