Which are the most frequent misidentifications in vascular plants?

A common thing I notice is wrong IDs for look-alikes common in other parts of the world. One example that comes to mind is Sorbus americana in the eastern US frequently getting mis-ID’d as Sorbus aucuparia. These IDs are made even more tricky when the foreign species actually does occur as an introduced species in the area, e.g. as a garden plant that may or may not have escaped cultivation.

Easy to say that 95% of moss suggestions are hilariously wrong.


Definitely. Mosses are hard, the hardest group in the plant kingdom to identify. Only a handful of species of moss are distinctive enough to be easy. Among sphagnum mosses, for example, only S. squarrosum seems to stand out.

No, I’m fairly sure that honor goes to the little round green single-celled algae.

I’m not too great with vascular plants, but in my local area I haven’t found very many observations ID’d incorrectly lately, at least as far as I can tell. Mostly just people ID’ing as Plant, dicots, or nothing at all. This is better than getting the species wrong, but I think correcting wrong IDs is its own kind of fun and sometimes wish I could find a few wrong IDs oddly enough.

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Here’s an example I’ve come across quite a bit among research grade observations while adding plant phenology annotations recently: Phlox species (particularly Phlox paniculata) vs. Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) vs. Honesty (Lunaria annua). Their flowers are similar in size and color, but they can be easy to tell apart if you know how: Phlox has five petals, the other two have four petals per flower. Honesty has broader leaves that are clearly toothed, which sets them apart from the others.


ok for Hesperis and Lunaria but Phlox…

Anyway yes, Phlox paniculata seems to be a quite misunderstood taxon…

Forgot about algae, they would be more difficult, probably need a compound microscope for most of them.

Yes, but like the mosses, they are not encompassed in the thread title, which is vascular plants.

So true. And it even got worse with this so called “EU Plant Passport” - now the mis-identifications even look official…

It’s not the most common miss-ID, but I’m amused by some of the plants that get IDed as Nandina domestica, usually with help from CV. If it has vaguely the right shaped leaf (whether or not compound or even close in size), has a red tinge, or has red berry-like parts, CV suggests Nandina. This happens all around the world, just like Nandina.

I’ve noticed that it happens most often with plants used in landscaping. My theory Is that we don’t train the machine learning with common landscape plants unless they escape into the wild, so it doesn’t know those. Nandina is observed frequently because many people start iNat with the plants around them, even though they’re cultivated (especially for school projects). In the US, that’s often Nandina because it’s used so heavily in landscaping. Nandina earns its way into the machine learning training because it’s invasive in many US states so there are plenty of wild sightings for CV to learn.

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Try Nandina domestica.

Not frequent, but the strangest misidentification I saw was of a “blue” cultivar of tomato, ID’ed as eggplant. It literally looked nothing like eggplant except that the fruits were purple; yet there were two different observations with that misidentification.

There are 1-4 common yarrow plants posted as common asparagus fern every day. Other things often mislabeled as Asparagus include a selection of conifers, fennel or dill, dogfennel, camomile, small pointy-leaved Sedum, Coleonema, and more. Plus people chose “common asparagus fern” for other species of Asparagus beside the one iNat designated as such. So in short maybe 10% or less of incoming observations are correct.


I saw one recently of Polistes fuscatus on a brick. It was IDed as Bryum argenteum.