Questions for the Botanists

Is every plant with a bean pod sort of fruiting structure a legume?

How do you tell an agave from a yucca from Nolina or Dasylirion or whatever, if there are no flowers?

Why are so many species crammed into the genus Euphorbia?

When you’re identifying, do you ever filter for Dicots, or if you’re not focusing on ferns/mosses/orchids/legumes/whatever, do you just filter for Plants? I ask because I’m IDing Unknowns right now and it’s faster to just call something Plants rather than Monocot/Dicot, if I can’t bring it down below that.

Thank you!


Because they all produce pseudo-flowers in a cyathium



sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially if the pod hasn’t opened to reveal its contents. for example, in my area, trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) makes pods that folks sometimes mistake for legume pods, and i’d forgive folks for thinking Milkweed pods came from Legumes, too. oh… and, of course, vanilla “beans” come from orchids.

often, folks associate a certain type of compound leaf for Legumes, too, and that leads to folks frequently misidentifying things like Phyllanthus for Fabaceae.


I often filter for rank, e.g. all plants at class level (which would include the dicots). If I do an ID session trying to refine things I will usually start with the unknowns for a particular location to pick out the ones I can get to at least genus, then go to Plantae at kingdom level, and then work my way down through Phylum, Order, Class to Family depending on how many observations are in each of those categories.


I think they need to evolve some variations on that theme, so the taxonomists can divide them up into convenient categories!

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Yeah, that’s what I was worried about. Thanks!

Hmm. So maybe I should try to call observations Dicots where I can. Thanks!

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They have subgenera. I have myself wondered why the family couldn’t just become an order and the genus become a family and the subgenera become genera…


I open a bookmarked search for non-vascular plants, mark them all reviewed, and then go back to iconic taxon Plantae.


For New Mexico species:
Agave and Sotol have toothed margins
Agave are wide and fleshy with a terminal spike
Agave schotti is a weird one to watch out for

Sotol leaves are flat and green to gray, very large plants

Yucca and Nolina margins are occasionally serrated, but not spiky (watch the ends!).
Other than Yucca baccata and neomexicana (and madrensis/schotti near Arizona), leaves are green.
Both genera often filiferous
Nolina leaves narrower and more flexible, longer when mature, will flop over in big plants to look like a bunch grass

Growth of new agave and Nolina leaves is the center base always, while Yucca and Sotol tend to extend upwards with size, even the non-tree yucca. Green part of Yucca and Sotol usually spherical (ball of spikes) versus agave sprawling and sprouting pups at ground level.

Baby and grownup Nolina


Thank you! No wonder I get confused…

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Because all the botanists would cry if that happened? Think of the relabeling here on iNat and in herbaria and private collections worldwide, if nothing else.

Oh, that’s interesting. Are you saying you don’t review non-vascular plants, so you get them out of way first?

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Since ours are either garden planted or invasive - I use Agavoideae (then someone who can, takes it further)

My designated task this year is for the Western Cape - to chew thru all the plants lurking above family. Started with the 10 year old obs … now getting to 5 year olds. Will take me the rest of the year at least. Still almost 14K to go.

For Rest of Africa it is 40K - which reflects less observers and obs ultimately compared to other continents.

For example ferns - I mostly can’t ID further than that - so ferns can = mark as reviewed Next. But an easy click among the 95% difficult it’s a dicot and then??


Nolina and Sotol are in Nolinoideae, but I’m sure they aren’t as common in cultivation

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I recognise the name from USA garden bloggers, but not to ID. But agavoid is hook line and sinker to trigger, no it’s …

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By the way, I’m still looking for a name to sum up the succulent asparagi. I asked local cactus gardeners and the “best” answer was “succulent monocots” :-(

One other thing to add - only agave die after flowers, so the non-flowering other ones may have distinctive stalks to help ID.

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I’ve settled on Agave and Allies, unless I know for sure that it’s an agave.

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I know, I know.

Linnaeus at one point had all of Cactaceae in a genus Cactus, but that was before modern complications. Fun fact from Wikipedia:
“The 1905 Vienna botanical congress rejected the name Cactus and instead declared Mammillaria was the type genus of the family Cactaceae. It did, however, conserve the name Cactaceae, leading to the unusual situation in which the family Cactaceae no longer contains the genus after which it was named.”