Need help with reID

Hi everyone. I´ve been reviding the Thymus observations from Europe and unfortunately, there are more than a thousand of them wrong due to the common mistake - identifying most of European Thymuses as Thymus serpyllum. But, T. serpyllum sensu strico is a boreal species, occuring only in Norther and Central Europe, see here:
Thus, all IDs from Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Switzerland, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria nad Turkey are wrong, unless they depict cultivated plants from a botanical garden.
Please, could anyone be of help and reID the observations of “Thymus serpyllum” from those countries? The best option si “section Serpyllum” or simply “Thymus”.
Thank you a lot!

A taxon split can help.

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How exactly?

It will change IDs according to the atlases of the species, e.g. all species in the subsection, and observations in overlapping atlases or outside of all atlas will be changed for the subsection.


That sounds interesting, how can it be done? Via a curator request?

Taxon splits only are helpful for fixing these sort of things if there is a legitimate taxonomic change you can use atlases for. This sounds like a case of just a bunch of misIDs and @loarie will be unhappy if you try to use a taxon split to correct misIDs. Getting a bunch of people to help as you have asked is probably the officially sanctioned route. If there is no range map for T. serpyllum s.s. on iNat, that can be added to help with future IDs. Correcting the atlas can be helpful as well if not already done.


It does look there there is some taxonomic changing that may need to be done as well with the other subsp. So, some may be resolved that way if you want to follow POWO. You’d need to flag the taxon if it isn’t already flagged and provide all the necessary taxonomic info to deal with the other subsp and var on iNat.

Isn’t “Identification by location” usually frowned upon?
Is the (accidental by cars, escaped from a garden, ornithochory, whatever) occurrence of this taxa outside of its purported range so tremendously unconceivable as to warrant a blanket correction-rejection for thousands of IDs, based purely on location alone?
(Looks like this thyme is even sold in garden centers?! can’t it ever escape in the wild?)

(Also, is POWO’s “distribution” info reliable, to the point of being taken as sole reference to reject others’ knowledgeable identification work? For other taxa, I’ve already noticed blatant errors in the purported range, among other bugs and ridiculous inconsistencies)

Please, send a feedback to POWO when you see a mistake.
Nobody asked to take POWO distribution as sole reference to reject others’ knowledgeable identification work.

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Sorry, that was my (flawed) interpretation of the statement by the OP:

[…] see here:
Thus, all IDs from [list of places] are wrong […]

(emphases/ellipses mine)

Still doesn’t answer the other (legitimate IMHO) questions.

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OK, I try to describe the problem in more detail.
There has been a habit of using “T. serpyllum” as a collective name for bunch of species, not even belonging to the same subsection or section. And so it is used by many people here. But in my opinion it is incorrect as true “T. serpyllum” is a boreal, north european species. If you don´t trust POWO, there are other sources, too: ; the monography by R. Morales etc. For unidentified, similar species should not be used the specific name, they should be IDed as “section Serpyllum”. Which is what most people basically mean.
Yes, the species is sometimes sold (but remember, most shops will automatically call any Thyme “serpyllum”, see above) and it is possible that it escapes sometimes. But that is not the case of more than 1000 IDs from southern countries.
Please, what solution do you suggest to fix this and not to be frown upon?

If you can provide some notes (ideally with references) on the key characteristics of the “real” Thymus serpyllum and how to distinguish it from Thymus varieties in the Mediterranean area, I can look at some of the observations. I am not personally comfortable pushing IDs back to genus based merely on the statement that a particular species does not occur in the area, without knowing how to distinguish it.

I mostly ID in Germany – which I suppose meets your definition of “boreal” – and have found that IDing Thymus is rather tricky and there seem to be different definitions and a confusing plethora of synonymies. The species recognized on the main website I refer to for ID don’t always correspond exactly to the taxonomy on iNat; I imagine this may be the case for other users, also. So part of the challenge may be getting everyone on the same page about which species defintions are being used.


Yes, it is tricky and a lot of photos cannot be IDed better than to a section.
As for the key characteristics, a good description is in Rothmaler´s Exkursionsflora or here in Czech flora (also with pictuters, Tab 111/4). I don´t know of any public key in English.
Btw, what do other Thymus identificators mean of this? @mihail13, @brothernorbert

For example: use morphological criteria (if visible) for ID. And definitely not “automatic” taxonomic assignment based on location vs. purported distribution range, especially if the latter comes from a single source.
(N.B. “FloraVeg” appears to be using POWO for its distribution info. Hopefully, the monography by Morales does not :))

Right. That brings us back to the beginning: There are more than a thousand wrongly identified plants (I´ve checked through them) and I am asking for some help with fixing it. It is the same case most people call almost any Cotoneaster automatically “horizontalis”: most Thymes are automatically “serpyllum” without checking (or kknowing) the features. Some of them are pretty tough to ID anyway but I don´t assume there will be so many new discoveries in countries without a relevant record yet.
I ´ve provided some book sources to ID above, unfortunately I don´t know any reliable public internet key written in English, which would involce this species. Maybe you do?

Maybe this could be helpful if you run it through DeepL. The page is of course not a scientific source but provides good information. And the morfological description traslated into English sounds good to me:
Stems creeping, terminating in a further growing non-flowering apex, stem branching monopodial. Flower-bearing branches obtusely quadrangular in cross-section, 3-6 cm high, with holotrichous clothing - stems are ± uniformly covered over the entire surface with protruding fine and short hairs only 0,05-0,2 mm long, which point downwards in an arc. The small leaves are shortly petiolate to sessile, narrowly elliptic, oblong-narrowly lanceolate to obovate, 6-10 mm long, (1-)2-3(-4) mm wide, leathery, glabrous, only in the lower half to one-third of the blade and long-ribbed on the petiole. Veins curve archingly towards the blade apex, thinning and disappearing at the blade edge. Flowers bisexual, calyx 3-4 mm long, with the tips of the upper lip short, shaped like an equilateral triangle, corolla 6-7 mm long, with shades of pale pink, rarely white.” (emphasis mine)

I guess most people knowledgeable enough to identify the Thymus found in their country (professional botanists and the like) may have at least some access, directly or via colleagues, to paywalled scientific literature and/or textbooks at university libraries? A thousand obs in total is not that much.

For example, there’s a key for T. vulgaris, T. serpyllum, T. pulegioides and T. polytrichus in Stace’s “New Flora of the British Isles”. I’m pretty sure you’ll find some British botanist who owns this book, is familiar with the local species, and willing to have a look at the (currently) 7 observations of T. serpyllum listed in the United Kingdom.

the best (and realistically only) solution here is to go through and manually add corrective IDs to each individual observation. When you do so, you can link to this thread and the resources therein so that the observers understand why you’re pushing their IDs back.

Yes, this is time-consuming, but it’s the most appropriate approach and the approach that will help the community learn the most.

Remember, you not only want to correct existing misidentifications, but also minimise the number that will be made in the future. A hypothetical automatic taxon change would go unnoticed by most people and just serve as a temporary fix to current misidentifications, without explicitly addressing the underlying cause of them, eg confusion among observers about which names to use, which characters are diagnostic, etc.

You may also like to write a journal post summarising your thoughts and explaining the situation, which you can then also link to when adding corrective IDs. I always do this when I do one of my ‘clean-ups’ on iNat for Australia. For example, there was a very similar situation with Hedera observations for Australia, also affecting close to 1000 observations. I wrote this journal post:, and then spent a few hours correcting close to 100% of the observations (there were a small handful of legitimate ones, another reason for doing it the manual way so that these are preserved). With each ID I added, I linked to the post as an explanation, and that also allowed further discussion with people on the journal post itself


If they cannot be distinguished morphologically, that leaves us with identifying by location.

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I would also suggest having this discussion in a taxon flag on Thymus on iNat itself. It’s best practice to discuss specific taxonomic issues there, and many users aren’t active on the forum and so won’t see this thread. Having discussions like this in flags on iNat ensures that more users can participate and gives a more transparent history of issues around taxonomy/IDing that can be useful if there are future issues.