Volunteer to be a Tree Spotter

Tree Spotters Citizen Science Program

Volunteer to observe the life cycles of plantsTree Spotters Video Still_PLAY

With nearly 4,000 different kinds of plants represented in the Arboretum’s living collections, every day presents rich opportunities to see something new. If you enjoy learning about plants and their unique characteristics, you can contribute to science as a participant in our Tree Spotters program. This citizen science project opens a window into the Arboretum’s phenology: the timing of natural events, such as the leafing out and flowering of trees in the spring and changing foliage colors in the fall. Your observations will assist Arboretum scientists in their studies of the effects of a changing climate on plants. All levels of experience are welcome.

Program Information and Training Sessions

Free training (see below for details). All levels of experience are welcome.

Once trained, Tree Spotters participate in the program by visiting the Arboretum two or more times a month from March through November for a 1- to 2-hour tree-spotting session. You can go Tree Spotting on your own, with friends or family, or with other volunteers

We offer a selection of 57 trees and 15 shrubs that you can follow. You get to decide which ones you will observe. You will enter your observations into your Nature’s Notebook Observation Deck (an online database created and supported by the USA National Phenology Network) that allows you to see patterns across the seasons and across the years.

To learn more about the program and additional educational opportunities, check out our program FAQ, or email us. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Our formal classes are over for the spring, but ad hoc training will be offered through mid-June and there will be classes in September for those who would like to join us then.

Responsibilities and Time Commitment

  • Attend a Basic Training class (module 1) and at least one Beyond the Basics class (module 2);
  • Visit the Arboretum two or more times a month from March through December for a one- to two-hour tree spotting session;
  • Enter your observations into your Nature’s Notebook Observation Deck (an online database created and supported by the US National Phenology Network);
  • Hone your skills by participating in additional workshops and educational sessions during the year;
  • Provide feedback on the program by responding to occasional surveys.

Required Skills and Interests

  • Ability to meet the responsibilities and time commitment above;
  • Ability to work independently;
  • Interest in learning more about the Arboretum’s trees and shrubs, phenology, and climate change;
  • Desire to observe nature closely and willingness to report observations accurately;
  • Ability to walk outdoors for at least one hour. Walking routes across the Arboretum will bring Tree Spotter volunteers past particular plants to observe 12 different species of deciduous trees native to North America and 3 different species of native shrubs.

NOTE: One of our shrubs, Viburnum cassinoides (Withe-rod), is quite easy to observe, so if you have accessibility issues and are wondering about your ability to participate, please contact us so we can tell you about your options.


Resources for trained Tree Spotters

Trained Tree Spotters can find our resource pages and events calendar using the sidebar to the left, or by visiting the Tree Spotters Resources page.