Using iNaturalist to quickly identify non-native plants

I would like to know how to use the iNaturalist app in the field (using my iPhone) to quickly identify invasive and/or non-native plants. I am working in my local park to remove non-native plants and would like to quickly identify the ones that need removal versus the ones to leave alone. Thanks.

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Hi, welcome to the Forum! :)

It’s great that you’re volunteering.

The iNat app does offer computer-vision AI suggestions for submitted photos. Depending on where you are located, and photo quality, the automated suggestions may be more or less accurate. I would not recommend exclusively relying on it for quick ID.
That said, further IDs are provided by iNat volunteers, and the accuracy rate is pretty high. It will take time, though.

the Seek app, also created by iNaturalist, provides live ID, but it shares the same issues of accuracy, and there’s no further community-curated ID.

If you’re helping with restorative work, please talk with whoever is managing volunteers. If you accidentally remove the wrong plants, you can do more harm than good. It’s better to be patient, and learn how to recognize the plants on your own. If you’re not certain, leave it be, and come back later.
iNat can be a great resource for learning local species, but it won’t work instantly. worthwhile learning never is.

Again, thanks for your efforts!

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Hi @jools103, iNaturalist doesn’t have this feature. Speaking as an ecological restoration practitioner in the US, whether a plant is native or non-native is rarely the deciding factor for whether it should be removed. There are many non-native plants that are very benign, and only a small number are actually invasive. As well there are some native plants that grow like crazy and are worth cutting back or removing, especially in small parks.

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Yes, I would say your best bet is to learn for yourself how to ID a few of the most extreme invasives – the ones you should remove without hesitation. There will probably only be a handful of very notorious ones, so learning them should not be difficult.

If you have a short list to learn first, a list of the worst ones and the most distinctive ones, here on iNat people can help teach you how to recognize them.

I would be glad to help you learn, especially if the plants are in a part of the country that I am familiar with.

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iNaturalist does tell you if a species is not native to the area if you are using it on a desktop, but it would be really helpful if they incorporated this feature into the mobile apps!

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Thank you all. I have identified the most invasive non-natives in the park, and we primarily focus on those. I’m working with many volunteers who, for the most part, only come one time to help out (usually for service hours they need for a class). If iNaturalist mobile app could help with identifying native vs non-native, that would be very helpful as I send them back home, encouraging them to use the app for nursery shopping for their homes/yards or as they hike about… most will probably never do that but I do get some that seem interested in promoting native plants.

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Seek by iNaturalist will tell you if a taxon is introduced or native (if that info is in iNaturalist), eg

But like others have said, non-native doesn’t always mean invasive.

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From Fairfax county master naturalist
“Five of Our Worst Invasive Plants”
https://fairfaxgardening.org/invasives/

Having had to explain to someone that the population they thought was a non-native weed and had completely destroyed was in fact a rare, protected native species, I think relying on computer-vision for this is playing with fire.

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If they’re working with you on a one-time basis and don’t have any background in plant ID, I don’t personally think it’s realistic to expect them to aid with invasive plant removal on the basis of automatically-generated IDs which are not 100% accurate.

Ideally in such a program, you could have a local expert prioritize and help ID and flag the invasive species, Even more ideally, you’d also have a restoration plan, which included re-seeding or planting of native species in the places where invasives were removed, since removal can turn over the soil and free up resources for invasive species to reseed/resprout.

Removal/cutting down of invasives during the wrong time of year (i.e. past seed set) could create more harm than good through spreading seeds in the environment (if not tarped and bagged correctly), or just end up a waste of effort in the case of cutting/breaking plants which can’t be pulled out.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s possible to in fact do more harm than good by removing the incorrect plant or by incorrect timing, removal protocol, or misprioritization of which species to remove.

For instance, mustards can be invasive, but if there aren’t other floral resources available, local bees and hummingbirds may not have the nectar/pollen they need during seasonal lows in flower availability. Maybe more compellingly, at least here in CA, there are a few native thistles (some of which are endangered/rare) which very closely mimic non-native, invasive thistles!

You should also consider the habitat value of the non-native species (which to echo @bouteloua @susanhewitt and @tiwane above) which may not actually be invasive!

It’d probably be a good exercise to consult your local Extension office or website, as well as any Master Gardeners or Native Plant association for ideas on which species to target and best practices.

@jools103 perhaps your student hours could be better used getting them to upload high-quality GPS locations on the plants in your local park to get a better idea of what’s there already as a starting place to create a weed management plan and a native plant inventory?

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In the small bushland remnant I’m surveying at the moment, the bushcare group destroyed the only Brachychiton acerifolius individual in the entire reserve after mistaking it for Ricinus communis…

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