Community Science

When you go outside, do you ever wonder…
what plant species you are seeing, and why they grow there?
when plants experience the most damage from herbivores and disease, and how that depends on where they’re growing?
how environmental changes (including urbanization and global warming) affect plant health?

Join us in finding answers to these questions, using Plantago species as focal study organisms (Penczykowski & Sieg 2021). There are nearly 250 species of Plantago: some very common worldwide, others very restricted in where they grow.

Our research focuses on these three species which are common “weeds” in eastern North America: Plantago lanceolata and Plantago major are native to Europe and Asia, but introduced almost worldwide. Plantago rugelii is native to eastern North America, and more common than Plantago major in Missouri (here are tips for distinguishing between P. rugelii and P. major). You can find these species growing along roadsides and sidewalks, in parks, and maybe even in your backyard! 

No matter where in the world you live, and which Plantago species grow near you, here are some ways that you can help us learn about plants and their interactions with insect herbivores and fungal pathogens:


Sample collection:

We are always grateful for help collecting seeds and leaf samples of Plantago lanceolata, P. major, or P. rugelii. We’ll use seeds in greenhouse experiments, and we’ll perform genetic and chemical analyses on leaf tissue. Please only collect samples from sites where you have permission (not from nature reserves or other protected areas).

  • Seed collection: A single mature seed stalk can be collected into a coin envelope (or similar) labelled with the date, location (GPS coordinates, park name, or street address), and plant species.
    • Please strip the seeds off the stalk and into the envelope with your fingers, and check for insects (e.g., weevils) hiding among the seeds. Any insects need to be removed before shipping.
    • Plantago major and P. rugelii have several tiny seeds per seed capsule; P. lanceolata have two larger seeds per seed capsule. Number of seed capsules per stalk is highly variable.
    • If there are multiple plants at the same site with mature seeds, you can collect a single seed stalk from each of several plants. The plants should be at least 1 m from each other. Each seed stalk should be collected into a separate envelope, labelled with a unique number for each plant (e.g., #1, #2, #3…).
    • If the site doesn’t have multiple plants (separated by at least 1 m) with mature seeds, but there is a cluster of plants (within 1 m of each other) with mature seeds, you can collect multiple seed stalks from that cluster, labelling the envelopes with the same number but unique letters (e.g., #1a, #1b, #1c…).

  • Leaf collection: We are interested in both uninfected and powdery mildew-infected leaves, but especially mildew-infected leaves.
    • Individual leaves can be air-dried flat within paper envelopes labelled with the date, location (GPS coordinates, park name, or street address), plant species, and “infected” or “uninfected.”
    • If there are multiple plants in the population, please collect just one leaf per plant. The plants should be at least 1 m from each other. Label the envelopes with a unique number for each plant (e.g., #1, #2, #3…).
    • If there is just one infected plant, but it has multiple infected leaves, you can sample multiple leaves from the same plant, labelling the envelopes with the same number but unique letters (e.g., #1a, #1b, #1c…).

Please contact Rachel for mailing instructions.


iNaturalist project “Plantago Roadtrip USA”:

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If you live in a state bordering the Mississippi River (Minnesota, Wisconsin, lllinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana), any observations (geo-tagged photos) of Plantago that you upload to iNaturalist will be automatically added to the iNaturalist Collection project called Plantago Roadtrip USA. These observations will help us plan future survey and sampling destinations, and the images also provide valuable information about the maturity and condition of the plant.

If you live somewhere outside of the states listed above (anywhere in the world!), we hope you will still upload your Plantago observations to iNaturalist.


iNaturalist projects “Powdery Mildew on Plantago” and “Powdery mildew on Plantago” (see distinction below):

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If you see a Plantago plant infected with powdery mildew, anywhere in the world, please take a photo and upload it to iNaturalist (along with the date and location of your observation).

Only two species of powdery mildew are known to infect PlantagoPodosphaera plantaginis and Golovinomyces sordidus (Braun & Cook 2012). Both mildew species may be capable of infecting all three of our focal Plantago species (P. lanceolata, P. major, and P. rugelii), and identifying the mildew to species requires microscopic examination of fungal structures or molecular analysis of fungal DNA. To make matters more confusing, Golovinomyces sordidus was formerly known as Erysiphe sordida (fungal species names are frequently re-evaluated and changed by taxonomists).

There are two ways to contribute your observations of powdery mildew on Plantago via iNaturalist:

  1. Upload your observation and tag it as any one of these three taxa: Plantain Mildew, Podosphaera plantaginis, or Golovinomyces sordidus. Any observations of those three taxa will be automatically added to the Collection project Powdery Mildew on Plantago (uppercase “M”). You can choose from among those three taxa designations ~randomly~, unless you have microscopic or molecular data to justify the designation (in which case, please mention that in a comment on the observation; we will not be trusting any species IDs unless that additional info is provided). If possible, please also specify which Plantago species is in the photo, under Observation field: Host Plant ID.
  2. If you upload (or find!) any iNaturalist observations with powdery mildew on Plantago, even if the Plantago-mildew isn’t the focus of the observation, or the observation is already identified as a different species, you can manually add it to the Traditional project Powdery mildew on Plantago (lowercase “m”).

Both of the powdery mildew projects above get automatically collated into the Umbrella project creatively titled Powdery mildew on Plantago (umbrella project).


City Plant Project:

CityPlantProjectPhD student Quinn Fox is studying Plantago in parks along an urbanization gradient in the St. Louis Region (> 20 parks total, in urban, suburban, and rural habitats). If you’d like to learn more about this project, or wish to contribute to the research, let us know.


Please contact Rachel Penczykowski for more information on any of these projects, and for instructions on sending us Plantago seeds or leaf specimens.