How to Add an Observation of a rare variant of an otherwise common species?

As an amateur student of dendrology I am relatively new to iNaturalist and have been surprised that the Details section of Add Observations, ‘Species Name’, only allows common names in English - and automatically generated at that, with the scientific name appended as if it were a junior partner.

This makes it difficult to list a variant of a common species in a way which isn’t just buried beneath thousands of other observations of the type (and therefore unlikely ever to be looked at by an Identifier). I can of course flag the variant in a comment box but that isn’t really the point.

For example: I want to upload a photo of Ilex aquifolium ‘Crispa’, growing wild and quite rare. The ‘Crispa’ is just ignored and the observation recorded as generic European Holly (among presently 4,210 others!).

Now I expect my problem results from not yet understanding how iNaturalist works; although I am sure someone will point me to a guide somewhere, I myself have searched unsuccessfully. If anyone can enlighten me it would banish a persistent frustration as iNaturalist seems very democratic and is a great discovery for me.

(Off topic: surely structuring the site using English common names is not very friendly to our non-anglophone brothers and sisters?)

iNat only accepts taxonomical names, ‘Crispa’ is a cultivar and isn’t a taxon of its own. You can mark it using observation fields or look up if there’re projects for escaped cultivars.
Site isn’t structured around English names, you can use latin or any other language.


It relies on your settings. Different people will see any number of names for I aquifolium.


Thank you Marina, I think I get your point about taxons. I know ‘Crispa’ is a cultivar, so you are saying iNaturalist is not really interested in them? (No doubt many existing observations of Ilex aquifolia are of garden plants.) That would seem, perhaps, to close the door on some interesting distributions of plants growing in the wild. However it is of course not my place to question the purposes of iNaturalist!

Regarding common names, many wild flowers, for instance, have multiple names depending on local usage. How does iNaturalist deal with them?

Every language can have as many names as it’s needed and they can be set to certain geography, you can check it as anyone can add them.
You still can gather that info using fields and description, some varieties are added (though I don’t really remember seeing plant ones), but they’re taken very differently around the world, can have different names and uncertain genetics, it’s too much of a mess to add and control for curators who already have a lot of work to do. Check


There are even different sites (technically) for different counries, like thisone is and there is iNaturalista etc.


You can set your preferred location for common names in your profile settings, under Content & Display.


The same page in your “Account settings” as shown in the previous post also allows you to choose between common names and “Scientific names” i.e. latin binomials - see the option above the one circled.


At least within each individual language, multiple common names can be added but only one will be prioritized (active). The other ones can still be viewed on the species page in the Taxonomy tab though.

Cultivars are an important concept but aren’t considered a taxonomic rank, although varieties are.

1 Like

The iNaturalist framework for names is based off of external authorities (see here Accepted subspecies and varieties are usually on iNat. I am not a plant expert, but I guess it is not the case for cultivars. You might use the Observation Field on your observation to track variety (there is one already made). Then that way anyone interested in that data will be better able to find it.


You can mark them as “organism is wild” if you didn’t find it in your garden. Use the comment field to add specifics.

This is precisely why scientists never pay too much attention to trivial names. People sometimes think we’re doing this to show off. But actually it is the only way to avoid terrible confusion issues. A layman might prefer the common names, understandably. But you’ll have to live with the fact that your flower has a different name in every other alpine valley and migratory birds keep changing their names along their route as they fly by …

1 Like

You can add cultivars in various ways. I usually add a description/comment specifying the cultivar name if I know it, and/or as a tag. That way you can still search for it, although it won’t show up as part of the ID. You could also look into using one of the existing observation fields.


Oh by the way @pmcabinet if you go to Account Settings → Content and Display you can change how you see scientific and common names. By default it’s Common (Scientific) but I like it the other way around. You can also choose to only show scientific names.


…and/or annotations

This is important information to recognize about the strength of iNat data.
There are searches and projects that pull together observations built on queries such as cultivar, vagrant, blue, cryptobiotic, eggs, and etc.

It may be that today this is not important but tomorrow it will be and someone somewhere will be doing research, for whatever reason, using that very differentiating or amalgamating term that was added to the observation.

Things also change taxonomic - what was now isn’t and what wasn’t now is. Closer examination of taxa with tools such as DNA barcoding can change the existing landscape.

1 Like

It’s really a matter of where to use limited resources. There are currently about 200 active volunteer curators who manage the taxonomy. There are 7300 unresolved flags on taxonomy (on the main iNat site, I can’t tell if this includes other portals or not), about half of which are for plants.

There are 1,348,234 taxa in the iNat database right now. These are at all levels from kingdom to subspecies. The database tracks species and cultivars and they currently have 760,299. I can’t tell how many of these are cultivars vs. species because their search engine is broken, but if only half of them are cultivars, that would add 380,149 more taxa to keep track of in iNat, 28% more than we currently have. It takes time and money to manage the system and pay for servers to handle all of that. iNat is free for users but it’s not free to run the site.

The focus of iNat has always been wild organisms. Adding cultivars to the iNat taxonomy would encourage new users to make more observations of cultivated plants and divert more resources from the focus of wild organisms.


iNat currently doesn’t include cultivars because they only include taxonomic ranks and cultivars aren’t considered a rank, but by that I don’t mean a judgement on whether they should be used. I can see some use in adding them. Yet, I expect that doing so would be debated first at minimum, for the reason of the site focusing less on cultivated/captive observations. Other solutions could exist though, like setting a max/cap of how many captive obs. users can upload per day or week. I like the idea of the database including everything eventually.

I just added Tansy as a regional (Washington State, US) name for Jacobaea vulgaris. Nobody I knew there called it Tansy Ragwort or anything else but just plain Tansy, even though most everywhere else in the world, Tansy means Tanacetum vulgare. When working on Washington Asteraceae, I saw some Jacobaea vulgaris misidentified as Tanacetum vulgare, presumably because the person went with the common name they knew.


I thank everyone for their contributions to the discussion, and instruction on how to achieve my preferred naming - I have learned a lot.

But I would still like to make make the distinction between cultivar/variety and variant, even though these terms are elided by woody plant botanists. It is fairly obvious that a cultivar will have been raised by a plantsperson, but what about a variant found growing wild? Should all obs. of Populus nigra ‘Italica’ (originally a ‘sport’) just be recorded as P. nigra? Or is this only an issue for dendrology?

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.