Receiving fewer identifications on plants than expected in New Mexico

I’ve been uploading images of flora found at the El Malpais National Monument in the past several days and other than a few folks who have IDed a few cactus species I’ve gotten very little ID input on other types of flora. All flora uploaded are wild.

Am I doing something wrong? Thanks


@aspidoscelis @andrewtree and I are among the most active plant identifiers in New Mexico. I can’t speak for Andrew and Patrick, but I prefer to spend my time in May in the sun and the garden. It can take a while to get confirmation, sorry. I have 816 plant observations in New Mexico alone waiting for a second or third opinion.


Yeah, even though I am from a different part of the US, it is a very similar story. Plants in general are usually a bit harder to ID, so not as many people tend to do IDs for them. On top of that, we’re currently coming out of the City Nature Challenge, so more than 2 million new observations just popped into existence. So, this is kind of the worst time of year for a short turnover from uploading to ID.


In general, there can be an extreme time lag between uploading an observation and having an ID provided. Many of my observations had input from other users years after they have been uploaded.


There are over 29 million plant observations waiting for an ID so the backlog is huge. That’s not including the 600,000 “unknown” observations, the majority of which are plants.


(I posted this in response to the original title of the topic–just explaining why it seems out of place now.)

As of now, there are 209,549 people who have identified plants on iNaturalist:


The verifiable-observations plant leaderboard in NM. Spots 3, 4, 5, and 10 only look at cactus (and maybe Agaves too). More than 195,000 Needs ID plants in New Mexico’s data set.


Really? I’m from Europe, so it might be a lot different here, but I find most plants (at least angiosperms) far easier to ID than most animals and definitely a lot more easy than fungi. :D


Hi @maipaismaven, welcome to the forum!

Looking through those observations, your photos are great and I don’t see anything “wrong” with them. The word wrong is a bit subjective anyways! I do want to address the broader question of “Does no one on iNat ID flora.” It might seem that way sometimes, and you’re not the first to hear the crickets on plant observations. Why? Well, I think there are multiple different factors at play here.

A mole cricket, just because it’s kind of cute and I mentioned crickets.

First of all, iNaturalist activity varies a lot depending on place! Some areas have a lot of naturalists, some of which are very active (Texas and California, for example) and so IDs will come in very quickly. Other parts of the world there are less people actively identifying observations, or less people with knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Many identifiers only identify within a certain region and don’t really ID outside of places they are unfamiliar with. Even within my home state of Texas that time to an ID can vary—a plant observation in Austin is going to get IDs much faster than one out in, say, Dickens County. There’s just fewer people online making IDs.

Who is active in the region where you post your plant observation is outside of your control, but hey at least you’re not posting observations on… um… Mars! Not that you can do that.

In areas with lower naturalist activity, you might have to wait longer for IDs. For example, here’s a plant I saw in Colorado that took nearly a year to get confirmed.

Second (as other people have touched upon), plants can be more difficult to ID. Some species are instantly recognizable without any close look-alikes. Then there are plants which might require more specific photos of certain parts for a species ID, those which might have so many similar species that only several experts ID them at a large scale (Astragalus, looking at you), and of course the plants which are more or less impossible to ID from the majority of images in iNaturalist observations, unless someone really clever makes a breakthrough (Tradescantia in Texas).

Ah, Tradescantia in Texas. So many very similar species which differ based on very-slight differences on the hairs on certain surfaces.

That all accounts for longer delays between upload and IDs coming in, and compounds with the first factor. You can ask around about certain taxa, as I did with the poppymallows in Texas. Identifiers are often happy to share resources or provide information to willing ears. That can help with getting ID’s for certain taxa.

Last of all, some plant observations simply don’t show enough to be confirmed, at least to species. Or rather, no one can identify a plant just from the photos taken, so they don’t. This is however something within your field of control, and often even minor things can significantly improve an observation’s chance of getting an second or third ID.

For example, one thing I would suggest you do is to take more photos per observation. Photos of flower backsides, leaves, flower closeups—these provide more information, and that is often very useful from the identifier side. Here’s another poppymallow observation of mine where one extra photo in particular helped a lot with the ID!


That was all I needed for that poppymallow observation to get a species ID. Not that I knew at the time, but hey, it worked! I got the ID!

I have “wasted” my time thinking about such observation improvements before and written a journal post on little tips which can help get more IDs on plant observations. Feel free to check that out if you wish.

Best of luck on your iNatting adventures!


welcome to the forum @malpaismaven!

and over 2000000 observers
so at least 1 in 10 users act as identifiers

similar to the numbers for insects…
and flies…
and fungi…
and lichens…
and snails…

only birds, mammals and fishes seem significantly different of those I looked at

IDs may take time depending on location and taxon.
It´s not particularly different in flora to other taxa though.
Broadly speaking.


why are you expecting that everyone else should jump on your observations to get them identified in just a few days? you have made exactly zero identifications for other people.


There are more observers on iNaturalist than there is identifiers, so naturally there is going to be challenges in regards to getting confirmed ID’s for certain species.

For some species I’ve found it takes a very long time to get confirmed ID’s, while others are identified within minutes of being posted. I think it’s down to personal preference of the identifier and ease of identification. Something like a Ficaria verna will get identified immediately in the UK, while countless Veronica serpyllifolia observations go unidentified. I’ve also noticed ladybugs and butterflies get identified like crazy, meanwhile certain species of spider or snail go unidentified for a very long time. I think it just comes down to most identifiers really loving butterflies and ladybugs and also the fact they’re also super easy to identify. Meanwhile spiders and snails might be harder to ID and have less people interested in identifying them.

Your observations aren’t going anywhere. It might take a while, but eventually some of them will get identified. Even if it’s something super niche and difficult to ID there are new members joining iNat every day. One of these days an expert in a niche family or genus might show up and be able to give an ID on something nobody else could.


I haven’t looked at your observations, but if you are unsure about what species they are, getting help from a local native plant group, to at least narrow them down to genus, will help. If you add a vague plant ID like “plants” or “dicots” it’s harder for ID’ers to sort them. I can do some native plants in my area, so I sort by those genera, and mostly ignore other things that are outside my area of knowledge.


I changed the topic title to more closely match the contents of the first post.


Hi malpaismaven,

I have found it can take quite a bit of patience to see responses. Myself, I sometimes free myself from the morning ritual of looking through observations I might have a chance of IDing with some degree of confidence; thus, I might not get on iNat for some days. Sometimes I’m backpacking for weeks at a time.
I often find posted observations lack the data to make an ID beyond order of family, much less genus. Lupines require at least 4 or 5 careful photos of different characteristics.
I haven’t seen your posts: I look to keys to see what characteristics need to be seen for ID.
I have some journal posts in case you are interested:

Oaks, Lupines, other wildflowers: photos needed for ID

This might be helpful too:

And, forgive me if I’m telling you what you already know. Like I said, I have seen your posts yet. I’m catching up from a small hiatus from iNat.


p.s., I have some observations IDed several weeks to months or even years later. It takes that person who knows that group to stumble across your observations.


I was just about to say the same thing. @malpaismaven, please contribute to identifications of things that you are confident identifying. Try to identify at least 2x as many things as what you observe. We are a community of volunteers and the community won’t work well if not everyone is contributing.


One other point: New Mexico is one of the most diverse states in the country with “4287 species (and 4666 total taxa) of land plants occurring in the wild in New Mexico”

For context, Montana has 24,000 sq miles more of area and only 2,063 species of plants.


If you switch to birds, you’ll get a confirming ID before you can finish editing your submission.


Thanks for all the good feedback. I will try to be more patient. Guess I got spoiled on response times with birds! I do truly appreciate everyone’s input.