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People's Online Plant Atlas (POPA)


  • Enable contributors to assemble and share a comprehensive photo atlas of vascular plants that includes diagnostic images of all species.
  • Build on-line identification guides to the flora that are customized locally for states, counties and participating sites, such as schools, nature centers, parks and field stations. Examples include our wildflower guides to We will make guides available to web users and on hand-held devices.
  • Provide taxonomic expertise to enable individual naturalists to build personal life lists of species that they accurately document in photo albums.
  • Build databases to help scientists, students, and community volunteers monitor the effects of of climate on plants, their pollinators, herbivores and pathogens.
  • Use powerful mapping technology to compare distributions of plants and associated species and study changes over time. (We will not make publicly available detailed locations of protected species.)
  • Develop curriculum-based K-12 lesson plans to help teach science through studying nature.
  • Help parks and nature centers manage invasive species, increase pollination and conserve biodiversity.
Cercis canadensis
Photograph by John Pickering, 2001
Cercis canadensis, Redbud, flowers

Cercis canadensis
Photograph by Cody Parmer, 2010
Cercis canadensis, Redbud, leaf base underside

Click on images to enlarge.

Updated: 14 December, 2011

Discover Life | Top


In order to live healthier lives and teach the next generation to care for the future of our planet, ordinary folks need to reconnect with the natural world in our own backyards. Scientists and policy makers need information about nature so that we can manage the health of the planet, and to get the large amounts of data, they need the participation of "community scientists."

The People's Online Plant Atlas will help to bring people closer to the nature in their own communities, and will help scientists collect the important data they need. Bringing together schoolchildren, teachers, parents, neighbors, amateur naturalists, educators at parks and nature centers, community members and scientists, POPA will simultaneously build guides to local flora while also building a new community of naturalists.

For educators, POPA offers an opportunity to use the schoolyard as a classroom and develop guides to the local plants that can be shared with future classes. Parks and nature centers can build online guides for their visitors, and use POPA's mapping to track shifting distribution of native and invasive plants. Unlike print media, these guides will be FREE and can be continually updated. Together all the local guides will add up to a massive data set that will enable scientists to track distribution information and help manage important problems.

Our initial partners for plant atlases are in Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, and Connecticut/ New England. Please join us in building our first atlas of vascular plants: People's Online Plant Atlas of Georgia (POPA/GA). Begin photographing plants in your local community, start a "life list", build an ID Nature Guide for your local school or nature center, and participate!


The People's Online Plant Atlas was conceived at a meeting in October, 2005 called Plants for the People. It is being organized by Discover Life and its scientific partners. These include the Missouri Botanical Garden and many other botanical gardens, arboreta, universities, and herbaria.


Discover Life is run by the Polistes Foundation. Its support includes a Cooperative Agreement with the US Geological Survey's National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) and grants from the National Science Foundation.


We thank Claire Hayes and The Dunwoody Nature Center, for hosting POPA's organizational event in Georgia, and Nancy Lowe, John Pickering, and Discover Life's staff for helping Claire to make things happen.

Updated: 14 December, 2011
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