Difficult Identifications

I am interested in your thoughts about how to identify plants with lookalikes, given that observations are a snapshot in time. For example, leaves/bark are always there, but flowers or fruits are not.

So it seems that early summer or late spring observations would have to be revisited in late summer or fall in order to decide on the ID.

One way would be to edit the original observation at the same location with updated photos. Another way would be to make a new observation and reference the earlier one in the comments.

I am interested in how others deal with this.

Aralia spinosa / Aralia elata is one pair which comes to mind, but there are many others.

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We would worry that the date of observation would be wrong then, if you have multiple dates mixed in one observation

we would probably do this


You can also link them using the “similar observation set” field but I don’t know how many identifiers would know to look for that.


Welcome to the forum @andre_214

Yep! Make a new observation and link to it in comments/notes/observation field!

Please don’t add photos from very different times to the same observation - an observation represents a given interaction between an organism and a person. One potential issue with adding photos from very different times is that it can distort phenology data (ie, photos of a flowering plant showing two months earlier when it was not flowering, etc.).


This is an interesting method. As a newbie, the fields are somewhat obscure to me.

If one uses the “similar observation set”, does it show on the observation page?

OK good. New observation it is!
Because I am a newbie, I wanted to ask before doing anything. I see that the iNatForum is the way to go!


Yes, but you have to know to look over on the right for the fields. For the kind of situation you are asking about I would use both the similar obs field as well as updating the Notes for each observation as you go with links to the others of the same individual. Identifiers will appreciate having a link to click on.

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I leave a comment on the first obs
Flowers at (with the obs URL)
And vice versa.


Cross-linking observations via notes/comments is great, but I’m also a big fan of the similar observation set field. It allows you to pull up all observations with the same value like this example. Some of the individual observations might have never gotten a confirming ID by themselves but as a set it’s clear what that tree is (it’s actually twin trees that have grown into each other but both the same species).

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Oooh, thats a cool data set. As an aside, its so weird to see a tulip trees(s) growing out of the context of a forest where it can stay (relatively) shorter and gnarled, instead of looking straight as a telephone pole.

I’ve got a tutorial on linking multiple observations:
https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/pfau_tarleton/29431 [corrected URL]

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I think those trees keep getting “trimmed” by the harsh weather on the ridge line - strong winds, ice storms, lightning etc. There’s evidence of several injuries visible when the leaves are down in the winter and it’s clear that the leader broke off at some point, allowing lateral branches to take over. The resulting growth form indeed looks quite atypical for a tulip tree.

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