Better Forest Challenge
Blue Hills

Do you love being outside in nature?  Do you want to help protect it, just by taking photos?  Then… join the Better Forest Challenge – Blue Hills!

When you sign up for the Better Forest Challenge, you can share your observations of plants and animals as part of the Friends of the Blue Hills team on iNaturalist.  As a citizen scientist, your data will help researchers and nature enthusiasts better understand the health of the forest, how climate change is affecting the forest, and how to better protect it.

After joining our team, you’ll receive updates on the data that has been collected, and what it can tell us about the Blue Hills.  And through seeing observations from other citizen scientists like yourself, you can also learn more about the rich and diverse natural resources the Blue Hills has to offer.

If you would like to both contribute to and learn from our citizen science project… Then, Join the Better Forest Challenge – Blue Hills today!  

Sign up for the Better Forest Challenge!

  • Create an iNaturalist account (if you don’t already have one)
  • Sign-up on our form below
  • We will send you an invitation to join our Better Forest Challenge – Blue Hills project. You will see this invitation on your iNaturalist dashboard
  • Add your observations to the Better Forest Challenge project, either through the iNaturalist app or online

Why am I recording observations?

The Blue Hills is home to an incredible number of species. As a member of this project, you will take photos of the plants and animals in the Blue Hills… you can even record bird songs.   As many people make observations of the different species, we’ll better understand:

  • What’s growing the Blue Hills at different times of the year
  • When plants are in bloom and fruiting (and measure how it changes from year-to-year)
  • Where invasive plants are most prevalent and most threaten the forest ecosystem
  • What and when animals and birds are found in different parts of the park

By making observations at different times of the year and of a variety of species, you will provide the data for scientists to evaluate how climate change is changing the make-up of plants and animals in the Blue Hills… which will help us better understand the health of the forest.

What observations should I record?

To kick off the project, your first challenge is to record observations of the five plant species below.  These species are either already flowering and fruiting, or will be soon.

You are certainly welcome (and encouraged!) to record other species, but to launch the Better Forest Challenge, when you record all five of the species, you’ll receive a Friends of the Blue Hills decal… and a Level 1 Better Forest Challenge Completion certificate! 

Each season, you’ll have the opportunity to meet a new challenge… and receive a new certificate!

You certainly can (and are encouraged to!) record other observations of the species that you see in the Blue Hills.  All of the observations that you record are valuable, and will be added to the body of data that Better Forest Challenge participants are building.

What Observations should I NOT record?

While it’s extremely helpful for you to record most of the plants and animals in the park, we do ask that you do not share observations of rare species with site-specific information.  Don’t worry about posting a photo of a rare species by mistake.  We’ll remove the photos of rare and endangered species with location information to protect those species from harm.  

Helpful resources

Current project list

American Chestnut

Where is it found?

The American Chestnut is mostly found in wooded areas of Appalachia, and a few are scattered around the US. It thrives in well-drained, acidic soils.

Fun facts

The Chestnut Tree was extremely abundant, at around 4 billion trees in the eastern US, until the Chestnut Blight occured in the first half of the 20th century. The Chestnut Blight occurred when the fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica was introduced from China in the early 1900s. This tree is now functionally extinct, with a few million young sprouts that exist in the Appalachia area. These young trees will survive for a couple decades until they’re all inevitably killed by the fungus.

Because the Chinese Chestnut tree is more resistant to this fungus, arborists are trying to successfully cross breed the american chestnut with the chinese chestnut.

The nut of the chestnut tree was once a large part of the economy of the US, and Native Americans used the nuts to treat various ailments like the whooping cough, heart conditions, and chafed skin.

Where is it found?

The Buttonbush is native to North America, and has a natural range of Florida to Mexico, and north to Nova Scotia and Ontario. It grows best in shorelines and swamps with saturated soil and full sunlight, and will tolerate water depths up to three feet.

Fun facts

The Buttonbush is used for erosion control due to it’s dense plant stands, swollen plant base, and ability to thrive in wet conditions. For these reasons, it is also a pioneer species for marshes, bogs, and wetland areas. Native Americans utilized the bush’s roots and bark medicinally for various ailments, as it contains bitter glycosides – which is a poison in large amounts.  

This bush is used by various species, making it important to the biodiversity of that ecosystem. Waterfowl and shorebirds eat the seeds, white-tailed deer browse the bush’s stems and leaves, and wood ducks use the structure for protection of their nests. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are attracted to the bush’s flowers for the nectar, and bees use it to produce honey.

Where does is grow? 

The Mountain Ash tree is native to eastern North America, and is found abundantly in eastern Canada, as well as northeastern areas of the US.

Fun Facts 

The berries of this tree are eaten by many species of birds, squirrels, some rodents, as well as humans. These berries grow into winter as well, making them one of very few foods available to species during the colder months. The raw berries are far too acidic to be eaten by humans, so they must be cooked, and are known to have many health benefits due to the high amounts of vitamin C.

The foliage, twigs and bark of this tree are a preferred food for moose.

Where does it grow?

The New England Aster ranges across most of the US, and southern Canada. More specifically, it grows from Quebec to Alberta, south to North Carolina, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico. This tree grows in prairie swales, wet meadows, low fields in valleys, in moist ground along streams and rivers, and in floodplains.

Fun facts

The New England Aster is known to attract bees and moths, and is a great bee plant as it provides nectar in the autumn.

The name “Aster” means star, and refers to the shape of the flower. The flower of this tree is actually made up of 100-150 individual flowers of 2 types.

Of the 600 aster species, only 2 species grow in North America – the New York aster and the New England aster.

The aster flower was burned and smoked to ward off bad energies and bad spirits. This flower was also used to treat various health issues.

Where does it grow?

The Sweet Pepper Bush is native to North America, and grows mostly along the eastern US coastal plain, as well as Texas. It grows in moist forests, in marshes and bogs, and along ponds and streams.

Fun facts

The Sweet Pepper Bush can be used for erosion control along streams and ponds, as it grows and thrives in wet, sandy soil.

This bush is also very attractive to pollinators, like bumble bees and honey bees, and is thus quite valuable to their survival.