Weed breaks through tiled concrete

Wilderness in my street

Posted on 10 June 2015.

Since 2011, several hundred people have begun exploring their neighborhood streets in in search of the flora hiding there. It’s part of a vast citizen science project called “Sauvages de ma rue” (Wilderness in my street). A treasure hunt!

The place with the greatest diversity in the Paris area is the Passage des Deux Portes, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, with 35 recorded species!

Wild plants grow in all sorts of cracks and crevices - in the bitumen, between paving stones or along walls... They colonize city sidewalks using insects, the wind and even people to spread their seeds. Although most of us are able to recognize a daisy or dandelion, lots of the other urban plants are a complete mystery. Initiated by the Tela Botanica organization and the National Natural History Museum in Paris, the Sauvages de ma rue program aims to help citizens recognize the plants living on their doorstep - plants they walk past every day on the street, under trees, in lawns...

The treasure hunt is on!

No need to be a botanist to help. Just choose a street and start looking. As soon as you find a plant, you enter the information on a field form (species, date and place found, environment, etc.) and, if possible, take a photo and then enter the data on the Sauvages de ma rue website. Scientists interpret the data, improving their knowledge of urban flora and how it develops, and giving them a better understanding of the impact these urban colonizers have on the quality of biodiversity.

The biodiversity passage

Since the Sauvages de ma rue program was launched there are already 45,000 entries. In the Paris area, over 550 observers have discovered 119 different plant species in 94 municipal areas. What have these plants taught us? On average, there are 6.5 species per sidewalk. The place with the greatest diversity in the Paris area is the Passage des Deux Portes, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, with 35 recorded species! City plants are more tolerant to drought and pollution, and the vector for pollination and dispersal of their seeds tends to be the wind rather than insects and animals.

Citizen science and fun

Sauvages de ma rue is a spin-off of Vigie-Nature, a participative science program that invites all curious nature lovers (beginners, experts, schools, etc.) to collect information about fauna and flora. There are increasing numbers of this type of citizen science initiative, both locally and internationally based, which collect a large amount of data over wide areas and long periods of time.

The eBird website allows amateur and professional ornithologists from around the world to share their sightings; the participatory platform OpenTreeMap is used in several North American cities (Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc.) to identify trees and urban forests with the help of the people living there. There is also the Global Forest Watch project. And what about BioBlitz, which is world-wide (in Auckland, for example, and Montreal)... During 24 or 48 hour events, scientists and volunteers conduct an intensive inventory of all the living species in a given area.

There are now hundreds of examples; they are a great way for city dwellers to reconnect with nature, better understand it – and have some fun!

Find out more:

- Citizen science - from studying bees or seaweed to solar storm-watching
- The official Sauvages de ma rue website