Mission: Impossible - Identify Plantae in Africa

Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

NOW PLAYING August 1-31, 2023
at an identify modal (?) near you!


In this challenge we’ll visit “Darkest” [1,2] Africa. Over the course of the month, we’ll find out whether identifiers can make a difference for plant observations on this ecological diverse continent.

How are we coordinating the operation?

What online resources are already available to identify African plants?

Which links will we use to identify Plants?

The links below are presented in “identify modal” format, and contain certain elements that you can keep or remove as you like. Notable elements of these links:

  • Flora of Africa project, for Tracheophyta and farther: &project_id=12505
  • All of Africa: &place_id=97392
  • Africa without the Cape region, excluding a “less dark,” higher observation count area: &place_id=97392&not_in_place=123067
  • Random sort, an easy way to access observations that are not the “newest” or “oldest” 10K. Refresh page for a new set. It doesn’t give a page count while in use (if you care). Remove from url to see current page count: &order_by=random
  • Observations per page, when set at 100 from default 30, allows quick estimate of progress outside of random sort (136 pages is about 13.6K observations): per_page=100
  • Grace period exclusion of last 3 months’ new observations, optional to add to link if you want: &created_d2=2023-05-01&createdDateType=range

8/3 update: @koos_the_reader has presented a set of links with the grace period built in, in a post to this thread. Many thanks!

I will use the following links to watch progress. Use any of these directly, or make your own to “choose your own adventure” for the mission! (Observation counts in K shown below are from Day “t minus 1”, on 7/31.)

Mission: Add them! These observations are not yet in Flora of Africa. Getting any observation from these links to Tracheophyta or better will add them to the project:

Mission: Improve them! These “slices” of observations are already in Flora of Africa:

Side Mission: Tend Captive Plants! These won’t go to Flora of Africa, but you can still be a hero in helping to sort these out.

Are there guidelines for identifiers?

  • Etiquette - current best practices
  • Limit notifications to others where you can.
  • Your notifications through site: When you id a lot, you get a lot of feedback. Your unread notifications are the count icon in the upper right corner of any inaturalist.org page. If you click the icon, they are presented in sets of 200 as a dropdown. If you click directly on one item in the dropdown, the whole list may be cleared accidentally. Try “control click” (Windows) or other means to send each item to a new tab without affecting the dropdown. You can “turn off agreeing notifications” to limit the simplest ones, although you may then miss experts’ comments along with experts’ agreements.
  • Your notifications through 3rd party: @pisum has provided a rich separate interface to replace the dropdown. Click through the authorizations to use it.

This example workflow provided by @dianastuder highlights other things to keep in mind (her posts below are linked)

  1. Languages
  2. Placeholder
  3. Missing Species
  4. Multiple Species
  5. Combine Multiple Obs
  6. @ mention
  7. Supporting ids
  8. Advising observer
  9. Narrowing your id “slice”
  10. Marking Reviewed, Follow/UnFollow
  11. Using Computer Vision
  12. Thank you for momentum!

[July contents of this post follow, left for context] That’s the teaser, the rest is just reduction to practice. ;) I’ve had an identification challenge in mind for a while, and now’s the time! We can use this thread both to work out the details first and then to communicate during the challenge.

My draft-stage thinking about the technical framework is to have 3 elements for it to happen

  • a forum thread for communication (this one)
  • an umbrella project that participants could use to id stuff - I guess that will come with a “leaderboard” built in? (7/31 update we’ll use Flora of Africa plus good links intel)
  • a traditional project for hand-added stuff like example obs for training, obs with really good discussion or tips, obs where an identifier needs a mentor, etc [7/27 update- single project created]

For the umbrella project, it would exclude recent observations, going up only through May 1, 2023. I’m thinking it could contain all Plantae in Africa, plus whichever of @jeanphilippeb 's presorted Unknown projects that are focused on Africa. Most of that is Plantae too, right?

We could have it run throughout the month of August, and maybe compare the leaderboard 7/31 vs 8/31 if we want to see “winners.”

My thinking about the human framework has already been articulated by @dianastuder :

Thoughts welcome!


I am interested in participating!


The more the merrier at all levels, really! If there’s a Mr. Waverly* catchphrase to say to you in acknowledgement, consider it said! ;)

*I don’t know any of the M:I universe beyond what I wrote, so I had to resort to the UNCLE figure, sorry


Today I cleared the Unknowns from the Western Cape for CNC23.
And escaped into my garden.

Now focusing on Pre-Mavericks in Africa - that is more difficult as both the either and the or are unknown to me.

CV update today includes my obs for 2 Cape Peninsula species. What we do in August, will provide the training model for mid-September for the update in October - ready for Great Southern Bioblitz. Good motivation!


That’s motivation for both CV training and human identifier training! Ahead of the Bioblitz, I hope that this thread and/or the trad project for this challenge will end up having some handy id tips and examples for later reference.


I’m down, although I know few plants in Africa other than non-native garden ones.


How about garden plants originating from Africa? African violets, various African daisies, ice plants…


Ah yes those too


I’m down


970,608 needs ID observations for iconic taxon Plantae in Africa. Is there any particular focus with that?


I like this. I’ll give it a shot.


hey, why not. normally I’m IDing in the Middle East but something fresh might be nice.


Working on that. I have 10 - but needs some editing.

  1. Languages. We communicate with the default common language of English. For the observer a (colonial European) language may be their second, or even third or more, language.

The Conversation in Africa article - changing language in high school.

Common names in Botswana

(If you are a taxon specialist - put that info on your profile for us?)

We also deal with low, no, or erratic internet connection. And power supply (loadshedding from 1200 to 1400 today).

Start here and light up Darkest Africa (replace my name with yours)


Re African garden plants, I think they should be in there too, but I’d like them to be from gardens on the actual continent for this challenge. They might even be from the same gardens students will visit during the Great Southern Bioblitz, so that could help us prepare.


this may be helpful


It would exclude the last 3 months. @tonyrebelo for example appreciates a grace period for his uniDed observations. So we’re focusing on the big pile of older stuff.

[7/31 update: Tony has advised that for the challenge it should be OK without the date cutoff after all! Urls will be simpler that way, and there will be less focus on newer obs anyway, if challenge links are set to random sort mode. For reference, a grace exclusion string would have been this url chunk: &created_d2=2023-05-01&createdDateType=range ]

Speaking of Tony, he’s kind of my “muse” for this challenge! In comments on an iNat blog post (around here), Tony lays out the impossibility of the mission.

Can we get more “difficult dicots,” or even easy dicots, to family without dragging them through all the coarse stages first? Or can we at least train more identifiers to do that in the future? Can we learn to use the useful African CV suggestions while learning how to avoid the misleading ones? Can we make Tony’s pile of Unknowns and coarsely id’ed obs a bit smaller- getting them to family and farther- without annoying Tony too much? Can we disprove Tony’s premise that incremental plant id’ing is just useless, or find out he is right after all? Lol, these are some of my own focus goals.


Even though I have no clue about african plants, I might join if somebody points me to a few guides - although I will spend most of August collecting new Plant unknowns on my trip to South Africa ;) But could be good practice…


maybe, maybe not, but at least I can learn something from the experience as finer IDs are added. there’s a few things from there I know how to take down to Order/Family/Genus etc, but only because Africa has many desert / xeric plants. it’s more of a… semi-educated guess.
IMO any improvement is good improvement. I’m skeptical we’d even manage to get through 99% of Unknowns in the region…

FWIW I’d be happy to be tagged on anything that’s thorny or cactus-ey. First off, I just like them, and there’s a marginally higher chance than usual I can contribute something useful.


I know 2 of those authors are active on iNat
https://www.inaturalist.org/people/891430 koekemoerm for Asteraceae