Weeds in LALA Land: Leveraging Citizen Science to Explore Urban Ecology in Los Angeles


Los Angeles offers us a fantastically rich and often confused petri-dish of plants and trees springing from yards, alleys, sidewalk cracks, public parks and roadways. From the iconic natives like Golden Poppies and Mountain Brome, to the non-native (yet equally iconic) stands of Arundo and Fan Palm, they’ve become a commonplace fixture of our urban experience and psychogeography as we walk or drive past them every day.  

Through initiatives like Greenaid, much of our own work to date at Commonstudio has focused intensely and singularly on the potential impacts of introducing native seeds and plants back into the urban landscape.  And for years we’ve felt first hand the warmth and resonance of this notion-What could feel more mischievously gratifying than restoring and transforming damaged pockets of forgotten urban space back to a vision of native wildness? Yet looking at urban ecology in this way, however vital, seems to leave so much unasked and unanswered.  So it’s in this spirit of botanical curiosity that our interest has recently grown to include the fascinating categories of the strange, the exotic, the dangerous-those lowly outliers we often write off or malign as “weeds.”

As the cultural critic Richard Mabey explains in his wonderful book on the subject, studying weeds in any context must begin with the ability to temporarily suspend typical arguments and engrained ideas about “good” vs. “bad” kinds of vegetation, in the interest of arriving at some basic understandings.  What are weeds?  How are they defined, and where did they come from?  Why do they thrive here and not elsewhere?  Beyond the potential dangers their existence entails, what potential benefits might they offer? Each species of urban weed has an interesting story to tell, and with your help, we’re hoping to start telling that story in a more compelling way.

Using the amazing citizen science smartphone application known as iNaturalist, Commonstudio has designed a public project entitled “Weeds in LALA land”, which is currently seeking Angelenos to aid in tagging and tracking the weeds in and around their communities.  Participants can choose how deeply they want to investigate, and no latent botanical expertise is necessarily required.  

More than merely a novel glance at the strange and exotic, or a fun way to spend an afternoon or two “weed-hunting”, this project hopes to invite larger conversations surrounding urban ecology and resiliency in LA and beyond.

Interested in joining the project?  Check it out by clicking the link below.  You can download iNaturalist from Google Play or from the App Store.


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