Activities overview

The Citizen Science project is underway and runs through 2022. Participants are conducting an ecological experiment to advance understanding of how buckthorn can be suppressed by using native plants. Although the project is at capacity, you can fill out this contact form to stay informed of project activities and potential volunteer expansion in the future. 

Prior to spring 2020

View of forest canopy from below

Identify a site

Between summer 2019 and spring 2020, participants identify areas where they want to run the Cover It Up experiment. Sites must measure ~30 x 40 feet and meet the following three conditions:

  1. Have buckthorn either present or recently removed.
  2. Be located in forest or woodland with at least 50% non-buckthorn tree cover (e.g. oaks, maples, etc.).
  3. Be located within Minnesota.

All proposed sites are reviewed by the Cover It Up research team to ensure site conditions are met.

Removing buckthorn from forested area

Remove buckthorn

After sites are confirmed for inclusion, participants remove all buckthorn stems over 1 foot tall. Participants use removal methods that best suit their needs. The MN DNR website provides information on methods. Participants may use herbicides, but we ask that no herbicide be applied on the 30 x 40 feet project site after the squares have been planted in spring 2020. Using herbicide during the initial removal phase will reduce the time needed for ongoing site maintenance.

Spring 2020

Experiment design graphic showing 30 by 40 foot buckthorn removal area and small plots where 3 will be seeded and 3 will be non-seeded

Set-up & Seed Mix

Within the ~30 x 40 feet removal area, participants demarcate six experimental squares, each measuring 5 x 5 feet. Three of the squares will be planted with a native seed mix containing a variety of grasses, sedges, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. The remaining three squares are the experiment’s control squares and are left unseeded.


Buckthorn seedlings planted in a circle around a flag

Plant test buckthorn

At all squares, participants plant test buckthorn seeds in a circle around a small flag. Participants track the germination and growth of these test buckthorn plants throughout the run of the experiment. At the end of the project, participants remove test buckthorn seedlings.

All materials needed for the experiment are provided by the University of Minnesota at no cost to participants.

Summer 2020-2022

Cutting non-seeded buckthorn

Cut non-test buckthorn

During the summer months of June, July, and August, participants cut buckthorn that was not directly planted for experimental purposes. (In other words, cut non-test buckthorn.) For details, see:

Two people collecting observations of plant growth in a 5 by 5 foot plot

Collect data

Participants measure the survival and growth of test buckthorn; take pictures of the squares and of the tree canopy; and estimate areas covered by different types of plants.


Autumn 2022 - End of project

After final observations are submitted, participants must remove and destroy test buckthorn from their experimental sites.