Don't be afraid to ID "common" weeds!

Where I live in the US (Minnesota) there are lots of different types of amaranth species. Most of them are considered weeds. One of the most common, particularly near agricultural settings in the upper Midwest, is waterhemp/rough fruit amaranth (Amaranthus tuberculatus).

Usually, if I see a plant I firmly believe is waterhemp, it is rarely on the CV’s list of candidate species, with its closest lookalike, Palmer amaranth listed instead. The number of research grade IDs for waterhemp pale in comparison to Palmer amaranth’s.

While it is indeed a close lookalike of waterhemp, Palmer amaranth is very rare in Minnesota, while waterhemp is almost ubiquitous. If Palmer is found here, it is treated as a serious noxious weed which requires reporting to governmental authorities.

Long story short, don’t be afraid to occasionally post weeds/plants you think are common.


I didn’t know this species and thus clicked on the link to the taxon page.
I noticed that there was only one default photo (showing rather the habitat with a lot of plants, and in low resolution without details visible), so I added some more photos. In addition to train the CV on certain species, to help comparisons of similar species it is also helpful to curate the taxa pages by adding meaningful and diverse photos


Thank you! Yes, a few more profile pictures would be great!

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Welcome to the forum! Sometimes the most common life gets overlooked, so this is a good reminder.


Perhaps you should point out the difference? Amaranthus is not the easiest genus, and the problems begin with highly variable taxonomic treatments.

I know nothing about the genus, and little about plants in general. I was merely commenting that common taxa often get overlooked. I take few photos of Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) because they are everywhere. Yet perhaps I am missing something. That is all I meant.

Just in case someone was interested, some of the “tricks” one can use to figure out waterhemp vs Palmer include looking at petiole length or observing female plant’s flower structures. North Dakota State Extension has a great writeup about the common weedy amaranths seen in the Upper Midwest USA.

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It seems to me that because people are more likely to make the effort to upload photos of something I’d it’s unusual or they’re curious about it, the most common organisms are likely to be proportionally underrepresented. That’s going to be a characteristic of the iNaturalist data set. Yet I’m surprised by the level of underrepresentation you’re describing… which is itself interesting! It makes me want to go back and create observations for all the plants I’ve photographed insects on (if enough of the plant is visible for it to be potentially identifiable) something I’ve always been tempted to do but haven’t found a good workflow for.


Sorry, I was adressing the topic starter, did not notice that I was answering you.

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For Amaranthus, the problem is that they are considered as highly unattractive (no obvious flowers). Great fun genus (if it were not for the poor job taxonomists made of it).

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Really? I quite like them. The patterns on their leaves are intriguing.

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No worries. I’ve done that before.

I agree! And the spiral that the leaves make on the stem is beautiful. Of course, given my username it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of “unattractive” weeds :)


I’m certainly guilty of looking for the most amazing thing in an area. One thing I’ve done this year is pick a nearby area I can get to easily that is (by urban standards) left ‘wild’. It’s not managed (other than very occasional burnings) or mowed. I try to visit it as often as I can. Even if just for a hour a week and then photograph as much as I can. If a plant doesn’t attract my attention one week, it may the next week as the leaves get more developed or I see an interesting seed structure. But I’m forced to concentrate on a small area where there isn’t necessarily anything all that amazing happening. And I’m pushed to notice the less obvious.

I also try to take a photo of every stop at every outing we make. Traveling to a nature preserve and stop at the rest area? - I try to take a photo at the rest area. And maybe all I can find is a weed growing in the concrete.

Between those two new strategies, I’ve photographed more ‘weeds’ this year than every before! lol. (Weeds mostly defined here as stuff I’ve seen growing in concrete, disturbed soil, and overgrown urban areas my whole life and always took for granted)


I fairly often post plants, and they receive much fewer IDs and Research grades than birds and animals. So I’m discouraged from posting botanical observations. Just saying…

Be part of the solution! I spend most of my time IDing plants. Mostly familiar ones, but sometimes checking keys when I don’t know it.


Same here! I got tired of waiting for IDs and started making them. It’s immensely rewarding.
A good way to get started is by learning a few of the most common species in your area, and adding IDs to those when uploaded. Over time you’ll learn a lot!


Does “Duplicate obs” then changing ID work as a workflow?

In case anyone reading this wants to help with plant IDs and doesn’t know where to start, I suggest genus Cercocarpus (mountain-mahogany). There are about 4,600 ‘needs ID’ and leaf shape is enough for most of the species.

Common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is another good one with 7,300 ‘needs ID.’ As far as I know, it has obviously broad leaves compared to other sunflowers and generally bigger flowers/taller plants.


I have no idea how to search unidentified IDs in any specific way. There seem to be lots of aspects of iNaturalist that are pretty obscure, and if I spent all my time learning them I’d never get outdoors to observe anything! I also do lots of other things.