I am key-challenged. No. That’s not accurate. I am key-totally-clueless-added-to-incapable.
I do mostly plants, dabbling elsewhere, but mostly plants. And I’m not a professional, so many of the ID approaches that are intuitive for trained pros make little sense to me. I’m not too proud to say that I LOVE ID sites that let me choose number of petals, and color, and opposite/alternate leaves, etc. Buuut… nothing in iNat is tagged that way, so I’m SOL.
I’ve tried to use keys. Really. But when the third question is “Annual or Perennial” - I mean, really? If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t need the key!!! OK. End rant.
My kind of key takes a group of plants, say, violets occurring in Michigan, or maybe in the Midwest. The first thing it does is look across all the plants and pull out the ones that can be identified on the basis of a single characteristic. Like the really deeply “cut” leaves of a birdfoot violet. Nothing else like 'em. MichiganFlora, bless their little green hearts, have a key for violets in Michigan. You have to go through 16 (16!) levels before landing on birdfoot violet, and they never ask about the leaves! OK. I lied. I wasn’t finished ranting.
So once all the single-characteristic species have been sorted out, then pull out the ones that can be identified based on 2 characteristics. And so on.
At some point it will become unworkable - combinations of 4 characteristics, or really subtle differences, will suggest a natural place to stop. Mostly, probably, when it becomes too irritating to continue. What’s left over either has to be handled using a different method, or (my favorite approach) left at the genus level.
And it does assume that one is able to recognize that the plant belongs to whatever group the key describes. Still, I think this would be wildly more useful and less frustrating than most of the keys I’ve ever encountered!
So. To my question. Does anyone know of anything like this? And most particularly, for violets in Michigan?