Illinois Botanists Big Year

Updated October 2023. Hey there! Even if you haven’t joined the 2023 project yet, whenever you do click “Join” to become a member all the observations of plants you already made this year in Illinois will automatically become part of the project! So you can still participate this year while you’re getting ready to Go Big in 2024. Happy Botanizing!

Find the most plant species and rejoice in your victory!

Anyone may participate in the Illinois Botanists Big Year friendly competition, from professional botanist to plant identification novice, by uploading photographic proof of their plant sightings to an online database: iNaturalist. Through the website or mobile apps, botanical enthusiasts upload photos, a species identification, GPS location, date of sighting, and field notes. Since other iNaturalist users can help with identification, participants need not be plant experts and can learn quite a bit about plants just by snapping photos, exploring different habitats, and engaging with the community.

How to join in the fun: Join the project, add your plant observations to the website or iPhone/Android app, and they’ll automatically count toward the contest when they meet the rules below.


  1. Must be a plant (bryophytes and vascular plants – native and non-native species are accepted)
  2. Observation must be within Illinois
  3. Must be observed between the dates of January 1st and December 31st (and uploaded by the following January 31st)
  4. Observation must be “research grade.” That means it must be “wild/naturalized” and that you need a photo, date, location, and at least two people to agree on the species, to confirm the identification accuracy

Nature newbie? No worries – we will help identify any plants you see. Don’t have a smartphone? You can upload photos through the website without need for a smartphone. Just take a photo and upload it to and identify as best as you can, even if that’s just “plant.”

Why participate?

Whether you add observations or help with identifications, there are ways for people of any level of interest and expertise to participate. It’s no hidden secret that the thrill to “win” is not the primary motivation for joining the Illinois Botanists Big Year or contributing to iNaturalist generally. From past ILBBY participants:

  • Contribute scientific data: “I’m contributing to a growing body of scientific knowledge. My favorite part is expanding the range maps for different species, and the particular thrill of adding a species found outside its normal range or being the lone state record”
  • Improve plant identification skills:a way to keep your ID skills sharp”“I’ve recognized my weak spots in plant identification”
  • Connect with nature: “I may have learned more this past year than at any other time in my life and I feel more connected to the natural world than ever before”“foster a sense of respect and responsibility for the natural world and its other inhabitants”
  • Motivation to explore: “pushed me to get off the couch and visit a wider range of Illinois’s preserves and ecosystems than I ever have before” … “a means to travel to new landscapes and learn about plants that you might not otherwise ever see”
  • Helping build a resource for further learning: “a great resource for learning vegetative and early life stage characters”
  • Improve photography skills: “I’ve improved my photography and photo editing skills greatly”
  • Connect with people:I will never forget some of the people I met this year, and the plants were pretty cool too”


All Years: