As human animals, we’re drawn to the natural world. The impulse to observe, touch, and understand begins at birth. It’s no wonder then that, throughout human history, laypeople—philosophers, gardeners, and vagabonds alike—have contributed to the most meaningful scientific knowledge we have. As Joseph Campbell said, myth is nature speaking, and the goal of human life is to align with nature.
While we now have a professional discipline we call “science,” everyday citizen scientists are needed now more than ever. As an organization founded by citizen scientists more than 50 years ago, CNPS is acutely aware and appreciative of this reality. Without the observations, painstaking work, and passion of thousands of people over decades, contributions like the Manual of California Vegetation and the Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants would not be as rich or even possible. The work continues today through Rare Plant Treasure Hunts, chapter field trips, the Important Plant Area Initiative, and more. That’s why Mary Ellen Hannibal’s new book, Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction has been especially meaningful to many of us. We caught up with Hannibal recently to discuss her latest work and the personal experiences that inspired its content.