Which are the most frequent misidentifications in vascular plants?

Which are the most frequent misidentification in vascular plants?

To be clearer, as an example, here in Italy in many cases people think that:

  • almost every wild rose is Rosa canina (actually the true Rosa canina sensu stricta is not always the most common taxon while other taxa belonging to section Caninae are commonly found)

  • almost every caper is Capparis spinosa (actually Capparis spinosa is absent in many regions while the most common caper found growing on walls is C. orientalis)

  • many broomrapes are identified as Orobanche minor (among broomrapes it is one of the most frequent but it can be locally absent and replaced by other Orobancheae)

  • dandelions are almost always identified as Taraxacum officinale (a name that should even be used)

and so on…

In my opinoin, it is an phenomenon that is linked to commonplaces that are widespread when dealing with natural sciences and spread by unexperienced people.

Are there similar cases in other countries?


Oxalis spp. are regularly mistaken for clovers wherever they occur.

Also the dandelion ID problem seems to be nearly global. I’ve even seen a research paper claiming that “there is only one species of dandelion and thus it is easy to ID”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4798791/


T. officinale is used because there’s no consensus on what is going on with it genetically. At least where there’s no other strict species.
Why not add these examples in clean up Wiki?

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In Germany, almost every oxeye daisy is Leucanthemum vulgare (about 1000 obs.), although Leucanthemum ircutianum (19 obs.) is more common in Germany.

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Most common mistakes for Russian flora

many yellow-flowering Asteraceae are mis-identified as “Taraxacum” (Leontodon, Sonchus, Picris, etc.)


Carex/Poaceae with only leaves are easily mis-identified, too.
And some people think all grasses are “Poa pratensis”

all Polygonum -----> P. aviculare
Matricaria recutita/ Tripleurospermum perforatum

A great issue with Alchemilla (“Alchemilla vulgaris”) and Euphrasia (“Euphrasia nemorosa”)

Also there are some specifiс mis-identifications via AI suggestions, in case the user had not used geo-reference before identification:

all Crataegus are “Crataegus laevigata” (north-american species, does not occur in Russia)

Cornus (Swida) —> “Cornus sericea” (again, not our species at all)

also many mis-identifications in Persicaria, Pinus, Salix, Rosa (as north-american species with many observations)


I am always against scientific educational programs that oversimplify things. What’s wrong in telling students to call them “common dandelions” which does not implies that they are the true T. officinale?


Very true. In my experience teaching about pollination and pollinators to 1st graders (usual age around 5 or 6), you can almost always make something both simple AND not untrue or misleading. It just takes extra reflection and research by the educator.

First step is to learn about the complex truth, then to think about the age appropriate approaches or terms available to you, then to work out a synthesis of those two. Most likely testing it out and being put back to the drawing board multiple times before refining something that communicates well.

With your dandelion education point, for example, one thing that occus to me is I would hold up an oak and maple leaf and say “you know how oak and maple are two different trees?” Following positive response, follow up with “but we can call BOTH of them trees. In the same way, allll these are dandelions” (show a picture with many different species, or be gesturing to a mixed assemblage of dandelions growing in the field) “there are MANY different kinds of dandelions” (point out a few with clear differences and easy to say distinct common names) “but we can call all of them dandelions, too”

Then you have to manage to repeat this information 4 or 5 different times, engaging them with it, ideally with follow ups months in the future, and what you hope they learn is nothing more than “there’s lots of dandelions” haha. It IS worth the effort, though.


I have no idea about plants at all, but those who encounter this thread may want to check out this tutorial here:


May give some useful tips to better photograph plants for ID feedback on iNat.


I have seen 31 additional species, some of them dicots, identified as the grass Timothy, Phleum pratense. In early spring, all the Phleum pratense are wrong. Later, when the early spring species stop blooming and the real Phleum pratense starts, the percent of correctly identified Phleum rises. I have also seen real Phleum pratense identified as 7 other species, two of them dicots, but such cases are harder to find. I’m sure Timothy not the most commonly misidentified species, though.


Just got another one! Ambrosia, probably A. artemisifolia misidentified as Phleum pratense.

Just to make things more complicated, have you ever took in account the possibility that some Phleum is P. nodosum?

Mostly, no. It’s treated as Phleum pratense ssp. nodosum on iNaturalist, it seems. When somebody gives that name, I just mark Reviewed and go past.

I could feel bad about this, but I console myself that if my work leaves someone else to have to go through some day and find the Phleum nodosum, at least they won’t have to wade through as much Alopecurus and Phalaris.


I would just say: just love what you are doing and spend enough time.
If someone is trying to learn how to identify plants without the necessary passion, it would be difficult for him to get good results.

PS: good tutorial.


There’s also guide on Russian about German book that perfectly shows how to photograph plants in different groups. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/flora-of-russia/journal/37806-kak-snimat-chto-snimat-uchimsya-u-klassikov

Often the observations of eastern North America are… questionable. I get it, because this is such a maligned family. Everything gets identified as a carrot, and sometimes not even the most common one (Daucus carota).

Almost every ivy-leaf violet (Viola hederacea) observation that comes through is actually Viola banksii. This is because V. banksii was described out of the V. hederacea complex (though nearly 20 years ago!), and almost every “V. hederacea” in the horticultural trade is actually mislabelled V. banksii.

Many people struggle getting past the thought that a trade label on a plant must be a correct ID.


Agree. Plants are not in my passion list for my nature hobby, but the least I can do is to know the right photos to take.

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For a long time, the AI was dominated by plants from California because there were a lot more observations in California for it to work with. I’m still finding examples of plants all over the world that are misidentified as California or desert SW endemic plants.


Yup. To this day, I still see Syngonium in the plant stores as “Nephthytis.” And even when labeled with the correct genus, almost every source calls it Syngonium podophyllum. Actually, aroid specialists determined years ago that the cultivated ones are actually Syngonium angustatum.

Speaking of aroids, they are the one monocot I have found most likely to be IDed in iNat as “Dicots.” Presumably because their leaves do not look like grass or lilies.

I also have seen black mangrove IDed as “mangroves.” Unfortunately, “mangroves” on here means the family Rhizophoridae, so that when I come along and correctly ID it as black mangrove, that bumps it back to “Dicots,” because the family is different.

In Europe and North America blue geraniums are identified as Geranium potentillaefolium which occurs only in Central America (mostly Mexico). Small white or pink geraniums all over the world are often misidentified as Geranium seemanii.
Most red Penstemon cultivars in North America and Europe are identified as Penstemon roseus, a mexican wildplant.
In North America green plants (mostly cultivated Hydrangea leaves) are identified as Mercurialis perennis, a plant from Europe.
Yellow cultivated Viola wittrockiana all over the world are often identified as Viola pedunculata.
Cultivated Weigela species are often identified as Rhododendron ferrugineum or Rhododendron hirsutum, plants that grow in the European Alps, resp European mountains.
Mosses in Asia are often identified as Arenaria bryoides, a plant from the mexican mountains.