Identifiers - what do you ID, and how can observers make it easier to do so?

Hi, thanks for composing such a thorough reply and mentioning specific examples. I guess this site seems to focus on getting an identification to species level, but I have come to realize, that different varieties (or subspecies) of a species are very much different plants, when the taxonomy work is solid. So, I understand what you are saying, that until a plant is identified to something that exists in the Jepson eFlora key (for example), it is unresolved.

When you say a plant can’t be identified, what do you mean by this? It is impossible even with good photos? Of course most people are not botanists, and probably don’t realize infrataxa can be important. Once we get to know the plants in our area of focus, this becomes more apparent. I have learned more, and I agree, trying to use the key is helpful.

I’ve seen a lot of Lupinus misidentified, and I won’t be able to find the time to look at all of them. Especially Lupinus nanus vs. L. bicolor. In a photo, it can be hard to see the scale or depth. In person, of course we would have no problem at all. So bringing your eFlora on your phone, or saved as a pdf, is helpful to learn. In other words, try to key things in the field, if possible.

Of course, as you said, some taxa are not accepted by Jepson, but can be used here on iNaturalist. I have found this to be true for Malacothamnus species. These are under study, and there are draft keys, but the current Jepson eFlora key is problematic. When Keir Morse is done with his work, we will have a much better described Genus. The thing about taxonomy is sometimes people inappropriately either split or combined species within a Genus, for lack of better understanding. Much work needs to be done, of course.

So for Malacothamnus, I can use my local Flora that was published in 1970, and get the same answer as Keir Morse, but if I used to Jepson eFlora, I would not find certain species listed. So even authorities are not perfect. The name I pick for the Latin binomial can be subjective, in this regard. My friend likes to add the var. maritima to Eschscholzia californica where appropriate, even though it is no longer accepted by Jepson. While this variety is no longer accepted, it certainly is apparently something different. Perhaps it is more a form, who knows, but it is different. iNaturalist allows these old varieties.

The unabridged note for Rhamnus crocea says that the infrataxa are no longer used, correct? What are you showing us with this link, that we should be aware the Genus and species need more study to resolve what is or is not a species within the Genus? There are intermediaries between the R. crocea and R. insula, it says. The subspecies of R. crocea were considered conspecific by C.B. Wolf in 1938?

Brodiaea are also in need of study. Some populations have been studied and adjusted to be within certain taxa, but more study is needed. I’m suspicious that some could be considered conspecific like B. jolonensis and B. terrestris subsp. kernensis. The problem is study is needed of all the populations of these, and possibly also B. coronaria all at once to compare.

Back to Rhamnus crocea, I do see a lot of variation in the leaf size and color. I was wondering if there were different varieties, but I thought perhaps they must just vary depending on the phenotype and since I see small leaved and large leaved plants side by side, I guess they simply can vary. I would hesitate to even assign the word form to any of them.


For insects I try my best to take a dorsal and lateral shot as best as I can. If I can take a picture of the wings showing the venation then I would include that as well. In terms of spiders I always try to get a picture of the eyes so at least it can be determined to family level. I’ve learned that for fungi the shape of the pores/gills (?) are also helpful to see.


Oh, for plants, what type of soil or wetland they are growing in is very helpful to know. Clay, disintigrated shale, sand dunes, serpentine, etc.


I used to ID all observations of the genus Senna and this is the comment I used to post:

A picture of an entire leaf, from above, including the petiole base, would help identifying (for counting the leaflets, checking the leaflet shape and searching for extrafloral nectaries).
Please don’t take only pictures of flowers.


…and as a plant observer, I always take closeup pictures of “everything” that can be shown, including bark (in some cases it helps to rule out the Myrtaceae family).

“Everything” should also include the calyx, as exemplified here with Tithonia rotundifolia.


Exactly! Time-consuming but very useful.


As i do underwater photography and identify mainly marine organisms in my area (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) it is hard to tell exactly what to focus on as there are so many groups i work with (and am still learning how to identify through visible traits).
But in general it would be a help if people took some pictures of the habitat (or wrote what kind of habitat it was) and provided depth if it is an underwater photo. I also would like more photos of different parts of the bodies if possible.

More exact things for the main groups i work with:

  • For Non-swimming Cnidarians: Body/foot /tube/colony shots, Size estimates is also good to mention if one can (which is hard to do underwater, i know)

  • For Fish: Side shots are preferable, as many species can be identified through this. All kinds of fins can also be good to photograph if at all possible.

That’s about it honestly, can’t think of much more i would add here right now


Rhamnus crocea has been split into Rhamnus crocea, Rhamnus ilicifolia, and Rhamnus pilosa, yes. I should not have listed plants that need to be studied further by taxonomists on this thread. When I posted, I thought that people should not photograph these because there was no available way to categorize them. Now I realize it is very useful to observe plants that don’t match the botanical properties described in keys or are highly variable, like Lupinus bicolor. This facilitates systematics research.

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I got carried away and went on a tangent in my first post.

I identify plants. Including a picture of hairs, fruit/seeds, pappus, the stem, and noting the smell of the plant can be especially helpful.

Here are photograph guidelines from the San Diego Natural History Museum:

This site has many identification tips (do not refer to the page on Eriodictyon species, as the given map and photo labels are incorrect, other pages on this site are drafts):

For Calystegia macrostegia, it is important to get photos showing the thickness and color of the bracts.

For Peritoma arborea, please take a picture including as much of the fruit as you can and record petiole length.

Fan palms in riparian areas have historically been reported as Washingtonia robusta. However, much of what is in cultivation is Washingtonia x filibusta, a hybrid between Washingtonia robusta x filifera. I assume that seeds are often dispersed from yards to wild areas. Please take pictures of the upper leaf petiole, leaf segment margins, canopy to show how open it is, photos of the trunk (a scale/reference point would be nice).

For pampas grass where multiple species occur, please take pictures of the hair where a leaf is joined to its stalk, both sides of the leaf in lighting that does not distort the color, or the staminate lemma.

For Ceanothus, a picture of that includes a branchlet, flower stalk, and leaves will usually be sufficient. Pictures of the underside of the leaf, fascicled leaves, and capsules may be helpful.

Please take pictures of the form and serrated leaves (if you can find any) on Baccharis glutinosa or Baccharis salicifolia ssp. salicifolia.

Disk flowers are needed for Encelia farinosa.

For Eriodictyon, take photos of the peduncles, sepals, photos of both sides of the leaf.

For manzanitas (Arctostaphylos), pictures of the base of the plant/burl and the nascent inflorescence are helpful.

Mission manzanita vs summer holly - take pictures of the flowers and leaf margin

For Crocanthemum, please take a clear photo of the stamens.

For Rhus ovata or integrifolia plants, please take a picture of the entire plant with the leaves in focus if you are in an area where these 2 species integrade.

Pictures of the keel and wings are needed for Acmispon glaber.

A close-up of a green branchlet and a photo of the whole plant is needed for Baccharis pilularis or Baccharis sarothroides. Please make note of toothed leaves on plants that otherwise look like Baccharis sarothroides.

At least for plant identification, I encourage observers to learn jargon like this: 2.

Keys for California plants:

  • Munz
  • Jepson eFlora taxon pages
  • Flora of North America
  • Cal-IPC guides —> especially for Genista monosperma (the note on the villous banner contradicts the Jepson taxon page for G. monosperma, but the banner is hairy in photos by California Academy of Sciences and Jason Giessow)
  • UC ANR resources

Here is a good pictorial resource:

Location can help with identification (Etiolated plants and bigger or cordate leaves may be found in shade or near permanent water sources).

At the bottom of this page there are tips to help improve the accuracy of the locations of your observations:

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From this novice’s viewpoint, it should be easier to upload multiple photos of one observation. If I try to upload 2 or 3 at once, each becomes a separate observation and I have to delete them, then find the first to upload the other photos.

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Are you uploading via the web? I haven’t noticed any problems like that in the app.

If you’re uploading on the website, it sounds like you’re missing a step. Although all the uploaded photos appear as different cards at first, you can just drag the secondary ones onto the primary one and they will merge. See the quick tutorial for this and other good tips!


or click
Combine all


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