Split Plantae into several iconic taxa

I’ve looked around the forum and couldn’t find this in the suggestions yet, so here’s a thread for discussion/votes:

Currently there is only one big catch-all category for Plantae, whereas there are several iconic taxa to cover animals. I suggest to split Plantae into several iconic taxa as well, or split out the most recognizable taxa with a catch-all “other plants” like there is an “other animals” category. I can see two possible options:

Option 1: Split all the land plants (embryophytes) into their four categories: 1) angiosperms, 2) gymnosperms, 3) seedless vascular plants, and 4) bryophytes.

This would likely be the option favored by botanists, but there may be possible issues with this:

  • Due to the nested nature of the taxa in the plant kingdom, the only one of these taxa that currently exists on iNat is Subphylum Angiospermae. The other groups would have to be created as paraphyletic taxa. Gymnosperms would encompass the classes Cycadopsida, Ginkgoopsida, Gnetopsida, and Pinopsida. Seedless vascular plants would consist of classes Lycopodiopsida and Polypodopsida, and the Bryophytes would be phyla Anthocerotophyta, Bryophyta, and Marchantiophyta.
  • There would be four phyla falling through the cracks that are currently part of Plantae but not covered in the four groups of land plants: Charophyta, Chlorophyta, Glaucophyta, and Rhodophyta. Should they be their own taxon then, and what to call it? These are all algae, but not all algae fall into this group (other algae are included in Chromista and Protozoa).

Option 2: Split out the most recognizable groups of plants that could be represented with icons and leave the rest in a catch-all “other plants” category.

This would be similar to how the most recognizable animal groups are separate iconic taxa, with a catch-all “other animals” for the rest. Which taxa to split out? I think the most logical ones would be: Subphylum Angiospermae (flowering plants), Class Pinopsida (conifers), Class Polypodiopsida (ferns), and Phylum Bryophyta (mosses). The rest, including the green and red algae etc., would be left in an “other plants” category.

How would this improve iNat? I can see two obvious places where this could have an impact, but there are probably more.

  1. Being able to choose more specific plant categories in Identify would help break up the large “Plantae” group into subgroups. Option 1 listed above might be particularly attractive here since several of those taxa (e.g. gymnosperms, bryophytes) don’t currently exist on iNat. Having them available as iconic taxa would make it a lot more straight-forward to target them specifically for identifications.
  2. The species break-down on project stats pages would become a lot more informative by showing several plant categories. This would be particularly attractive for projects limited to plants only, which currently just show a circle with the same green color all the way around.

What could this look like? I’ve spent some time thinking about possible icons for the different plant categories. I think the most logical choices (because easily recognizable by most people) would be a flower for angiosperms and a pine cone for gymnosperms. For ferns/seedless vascular plants, I think a fiddlehead is a good option. A lot of people are probably familiar with fern fiddleheads. For the mosses/bryophytes, a moss plant with sporophyte might work. Here are some examples I came up with for possible icons - there may be better design options so feel free to comment/discuss/suggest the most recognizable plant icons.
FlowerIcon100 PineIcon100 FernIcon100 MossIcon100

Here’s a mock-up of what the Identify page could look like with these:

(Note: There were some empty squares in the layout, so I filled them in with possible icons for bacteria, archaea, and viruses but there is another feature request already for those. There is also a feature request for additional animal taxa. Chromista don’t have an icon yet either, so there are multiple options to fill empty slots.)

For color representations of the additional plant taxa, I think it would make the most sense to use different shades of green. Here’s a mock-up what a project stats page could look like:

yeah, this would be great. I myself also don’t like how we get all these different sorts of animals but only one ‘plantae’ iconic taxa


I mostly identify insects, so this doesn’t really affect me, but I don’t really see the benefits of creating iconic taxon buttons when you can just as easily search for Bryophyta (or any other group) on the Identify page.


can we lump insects and all the rest back into animalia then? :laughing:


M, you can do the same with any group, why having an iconic axon at all then?

@annkatrinrose I have a limit of voices, but I support it, people say that icons would be hard to distinguish, but those you shown are incredibly easy and would serve against Plant blindness.


I really like your icons, @annkatrinrose, they’re great! However, I think many people wouldn’t understand the fourth one (I don’t think I would if no one told me what it was) and I supsect that the lack of a Plantae one would be missed. As I mentioned here this is something that’s been discussed and considered both by our staff (and perhaps on the old Google Group?) so I’ll just say it’s unlikely we’ll do it but I think you’ve presented a pretty good case.


Could all icons have a small text underneath them? Fern and Moss are short enough to fit in with bold letters.


On the web maybe (alhtough I think the tooltips are fine there). I think it’d be more difficult on mobile.


On the whole I don’t feel too strongly about this one way or the other, except maybe on principle for having “parity” with iconic animals – though maybe that’s not something we want to aspire to…? :wink:

Currently I don’t mind typing vasc into the taxon filter box when I want to select for vascular plants, or angio for flowering plants, or dicot. If more iconic plant taxa were implemented, I could just as easily start typing plant when I want to select for all plant groups. But maybe I would feel more strongly for adding icons if I were working mainly from a smartphone where typing is less convenient or not an option, instead of from my desktop.

If iconic taxa could be implemented behind the scenes as multi-taxon filters instead of just a single taxonomic node, then I would be in favor of using the proposed icons for the taxonomic groupings suggested in Option 1, plus a fifth one for the leftover algal groups. I wouldn’t be too worried about missing the “non-plant” algal groups – or maybe those could be added to a multi-taxon filter for the Algae icon if that were possible. The pop-up tool-tip labels could read Flowering Plants; Conifers and allies; Ferns and allies; Mosses and allies; Algae. I think these tend to be the most readily recognized plant forms (if any) by non-botanists, and to be the most frequent broad “specializations” among folks likely to be expert identifiers – though I don’t know of very many who focus on “Conifers and allies” as a whole.

I think if we were to go with the groups in Option 2, the “other plants” category would end up being pretty inscrutable to botanists and non-botanists alike.


It would be nice if those giant green sections of the pie chart were divided up. I think using only angiosperms, gymnosperms, and other plants would be the easiest. The iconic taxa can be paraphyletic, like other animals. Other animals still needs to be added to the filter box. I requested it awhile back and was told that there was going to be a big overhaul of the filter box in the future. I like your flower and pinecone icons. :+1:


i don’t really think it is necessary to split the plants iconic taxon any further. i think splitting out animals the way it was done was fine because that does reflect how many folks think of animal forms, and these happen to line up taxonomically. i think most folks are more likely to split plants into categories like trees, forbs, vines – and these don’t line up with taxonomy.

if you were to split out plants, whatever set of iconic taxa you decided on would have to include an other plants category. this would be the only way to get plants that were identified at the kingdom level if plants were split out.

just for reference, out of 30.3M verifiable plant observations, 27.5M are flowering plants, 0.8M are ferns, 0.7M are conifers, 0.4M are mosses, and the rest should be “other” plants (non-vascular plants, gingkgos, cycads, gnetophytes, lycophytes, and kingdom-level IDed plants).


While I wouldn’t use them to create observations, I would be very interested in seeing in the stats the variety of plantae found, rather than one big chunk.


Plant blindness on iNat?
If iNat sorts the obs by numbers

  • how many Animals?
  • how many Plants?

Keep a generic Leaf for Plants, but let us plant people have choices. Plant people also use iNat! As the animal people already take theirs for granted.


https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/plant-blindness-and-inaturalist/4479 109 comments there



Oooh, I like that idea. I generally don’t hang out where there are sidewalks though. Maybe on the tiny green islands in parking lots.

1 Like

This is what I came up with:

All Observations - 72,847,557 - 100%
All Animals - 37,904,831 - 52%
All Plants - 30,328,116 - 42%

:green_heart: Flowering Plants - 27,539,134 - 38%
:orange_heart: Insects - 18,118,998 - 25%
:blue_heart: Birds - 10,307,585 - 14%
:orange_heart: Arachnids - 1,979,267 - 3%
:blue_heart: Reptiles - 1,757,009 - 2%
:blue_heart: Mammals - 1,642,009 - 2%
:blue_heart: Other Animals - 1,296,396 - 2%
:green_heart: Other Plants - 1,290,677 - 2%
:orange_heart: Mollusks - 1,071,171 - 1%
:blue_heart: Amphibians - 1,030,263 - 1%
:green_heart: Ferns - 816,547 - 1%
:blue_heart: Ray-finned Fish - 698,220 - 1%
:green_heart: Conifers - 681,758 - 1%
:brown_heart: Chromista - 95,099 - 0.1% (already exists)


Also slightly off topic, a lot of people get confused that the fish symbol is only ray-finned fishes. If Other Animals can be a paraphyletic group, why can’t Fish be?
chimaeras 428
jawless fish 1,104
ray-finned 698,292
elasmobranchs 42,822
lobe-finned fish 26
:blue_heart: Fish - 742,672 - 1%

And then instead of other animals, do other invertebrates (including invertebrate chordates)
:orange_heart: Other Inverts - 1,243,010 - 2%


Why not all Chondrichthyes together? Chimaeras don’t seem to be very popular.

I was just showing my work. Showing what I added together to get “Fish”. Those are the groups as they are in the iNat taxonomy. Those aren’t supposed to be separate iconic taxa.

PS All the colored hearts are supposed to represent iconic taxa


is there any argument for not having iconic plant taxa other than people just ‘liking animals better’? That isn’t even really true on iNat given there are almost as many plant observations as animal. I guess it would take work to do which isn’t free or in high supply. I do feel lik there is a subtle message of plants mattering less despite being the most useful spcies to discern longer term ecological status and condition and function, since they can’t move around.