POWO accepting unpublished names - reassess our POWO implementation?

Maybe this has been going on for a while, and I just haven’t noticed it until now. But it seems that POWO is allowing unpublished (“ined.”) names to be part of their accepted taxonomy. Example here.

Along with our earlier discussion about POWO’s wholesale adoption of some questionable taxonomic changes, this causes me to start questioning the scientific value of POWO as a taxonomic framework for vascular plants on iNaturalist, including one of my own earlier feature requests. Maybe there is still no better alternative, but at the very least, we may need to build a little more curatorial policy around its use.

For what it’s worth, I know we’ve had previous discussion about allowing unpublished scientific names to be added to the iNat taxonomy, and my position remains that this is a recipe for taxonomic anarchy down the road.


Taxonomic anarchy is a good way to put it.

I’d also ask this question: Is it right to accept BugGuide’s undescribed species names? Obviously, they are legit species and will be described eventually, but they are still ‘work in progress’ and need assessment and evaluations before they should be put into the taxonomy.


Just curious the example you linked to they are all subspecies and list 4 different authors ? How likely is it 4 different people are doing unpublished subspecies for 1 plant. Where are they getting the names from?

The authors you are seeing are for the basionyms of the unpublished subspecies combinations. Presumably a single author is planning to validate the combinations, but until they do, “ined.” goes where the combining author would be named. (I guess this is different from the ICZN, where new combinations can be made without authorship?)

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Looks like they’re saying they disagree these taxa should be split into different species (e.g. Apocynum scabrum vs. A. venosum subsp. scabrum: http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/77150624-1). So it’s a bit different case than accepting a wholly new or split undescribed species. Did you check with Rafaël? There’s not a trivial number of these (but a tiny drop in the grand scheme of POWO).

I haven’t yet opened a channel with him, figuring enough other folks were already bending his ear and not wanting to pile on or repeat something he had already addressed. But could be convinced on this one…

In one sense, yes. But in terms of mapping iNat taxonomy to POWO through Taxonomic Framework Relationships, we would still be deciding whether to “match” with an unpublished name, versus “deviating” with a published name. With undescribed species, it’s just the converse - deviating for an unpublished name.

Also, not every curator may know what “ined.” means, and just assume that if it appears in POWO as an accepted name, then it is fair game to curate toward in iNaturalist.


That’s a bit surprising–I hadn’t realized they were doing that. It looks as though these are being drawn out of WCSP? (They have a link to IPNI which is, of course, dead as it isn’t in IPNI.)

I agree that we should maintain our long-standing policy of not accepting unpublished taxon names, even if they appear in external databases. In this particular case, I think I’d deal with it by creating a deviation linking the valid name (if any) we use here to the taxon used in POWO.

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I guess the question I would ask is what is the alternative ? I don’t think there is another global resource that matches POWO.

If the choices are having the monitor to check these don’t slip through or going back to having no reference for plants, I’d choose the first.

While there are some families with well maintained global references, having no reference at all for large segments of plants strikes me as a way to grind managing plant taxonomy to a halt, and way more conflicts as people point to every regional or whatever source.


I agree, and don’t have a better alternative to offer. It just bothers me that POWO would show unpublished names as accepted names.

@loarie how would you prefer that we handle such names with respect to iNat taxa and Taxon Framework Relationships?

It would be important that curators would be enough crafty to avoid adding these names to the site taxonomy.

I totally agree

Curious if anyone has reached out to POWO to ask about these?

Is it possible these are names which are published as full species but POWO is not accepting that treatment and resetting them as subspecies? And then saying the ssp is an unpublished name?

I did a Google scholar search on one of them as an example and it is clearly published both in Russian language articles and a 2020 monograph, but published as a species, not a subspecies.

the same names appers here:

the two databases are from the same institution so, possibly, POWO has just imported the names from the WCoVP