Why are some accounts adding super high level ids to my unknown observations

I am also wondering - maybe some botanists here may give insight - if filtering for ‘plantae’ is rather too broad for experts and they favor taxa such as ‘tracheophytes’, ‘dicots’ etc. - to exclude mosses and maybe ferns as well.
Because then it might actually be true that getting an ID is less likey than leaving it at ‘unknown’ (even for regions other than South Africa)

I’m so sorry, but even if I know the species, I do not identify/correct species in South Africa. I had bad experience not only with this particular user mentioned here, but also with another one.
I know one or two iNatters that exclude South Africa from their searches for the same reasons.


I don’t upload Unknowns, and I don’t really understand why people do and then get upset, but an ID of plants followed by a finer ID leaves the community ID at plants. In the case of a subsequent subspecies ID, it leaves the observation ID at plants too, and that is true if the observer has globally opted out of Community ID as well.

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It will be filtered as a finer id, unless it’s a ssp, in this case status of community id doesn’t matter.

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I apologise for the bad experiences. And deeply regret that even the Rest of Africa doesn’t get much help.

Because I do a lot of identifying across Africa, I discover a pool of competent identifiers. But it is nothing like the human resources available in USA or Western Europe etc.

@swampster no one is prevented from attacking a corner of 40K plants. But botanists set their filters to family. (Yes, there are a few exceptions who do tackle Plantae)

For plants it gets more unhelpful since iNat doesn’t like subspecies or variety. That prevents the relevant identifier from filtering out what they want. More plants? No, thank you I do Asteraceae.

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Also try to Cross Reference it to species found locally in your area that others id’s or observed, I do that and it works.

The insistence on leaving observations at “unknown” rather than “Plantae” or “Dicots” has been presented as on obvious truth, as abstractly right. When that happened to me, I was angry, partly because it is NOT right in any abstract sense. We’re supposed to shift iNaturalist observations to lower and lower taxonomic levels, in a process that can lead to identification to species.

In the discussion here, the issue is being presented in a more more reasonable way. Some of the few good botanists in southern Africa are coping with their heavy work load by searching “unknowns” rather than the overwhelmingly huge category “Plantae” or “dicots,” so please leave African plant observations as “unknown” until we get there, unless you can identify the plant to family or a lower rank. I’m willing to cooperate with that.

Although I am willing to cooperate, I have reservations. First, surely some people posting African plants post them as plants. Second, some of the people who go through “unknowns” sort them to very broad categories, including plants, because that’s the best they can do, and they shouldn’t be discouraged, I think.


Also it seems the “blame” is shifted to broad iders and not the fact that this situation is based on number of experts working on those observations, it’s like telling observers to stop observing because there’re too many observations, people are willing to ignore that different parts of the world also have thousands of unided plants and they’re ided to all levels known to the world and it doesn’t come to anyone’s mind there that it’d be better to leave them unknown if you don’t know the family they belong to.


What is the solution? To misidentify the plant so that it doesn’t end up in the rubbish bin? That was my point. One has only three options: 1) leave it as unknown, 2) identify it as plant (or some higher taxa), 3) add a species identification that is almost certainly incorrect. That was my point.

I’m not sure it will be possible to inform the global community so that they’re aware of this. I am one person, and if I ever stumble across an unknown, I will skip over it. But not every identifier will be reading this thread.


This is exactly how it should be worded when a new identifier adds a “plants” ID to a previously “unknown” observation.

While I do not agree with leaving any observations in the unknown category, my biggest issue with how African plant IDs are being handled are the terse and rude replies being given to people who are only doing what the platform itself encourages. Many iNat users are not aware of conversations such as this one happening in the forum and are being met with “that’s not how things work here” when they attempt to be helpful.

This is the only argument in favor of unknowns that makes any sense to me. iNat has been aware of the issue for years and a workable solution has not been created. This is a problem for observations globally, but I understand how the problem is exacerbated in areas with fewer knowledgeable identifiers. I withdraw any of my IDs that prevent a subspecies identification from becoming filterable. Though, I realize this is not necessarily common practice among general users.


Well, this has become a ‘thorny issue.’

I’m here all week.

Stepping back a bit, is this South African workflow something that a very small number of users who reside/identify there have decided upon and insist that everyone who helps identify in the area subscribe to?

If so, there’s something to be said of a small, vocal group dictating how things ought to be for everyone else.

If not, this non-standard workflow should be noted in help, FAQ, etc.

Edit: Not sure if it’s African or South African, sorry!


Until reading some of the more recent posts in this thread and then poking at the identify page to try to figure out what people were talking about, I hadn’t realized it was even possible to search for “unknown” but not “plants”. This isn’t something I’ve ever wanted to do and I’m still not sure why anyone would want to do it, but a lot of human behavior falls into that category. :-)

Regardless of the other possible merits of a plant identification workflow in which one is searching for “unknown” but not “plants”, it’s probably worth considering the following: When one possible workflow relies on other users knowing what your workflow is and adjusting their behavior accordingly, and a second option does not, this is of itself a reason to prefer the second option. Trying to get a large and changing group of other users to work around you is likely to be an ongoing source of avoidable frustration.


Option 4: identify it to family. If you know what species it kinda-but-not-really looks like, it is likely to be in the same family.

Let’s see, it reminds me a lot of eggplant, but I’m sure it isn’t eggplant – Solanaceae

Hmmm, it has pods like a bean or a pea – I’m gonna go with Fabaceae for now.

The whole point of the complaints from Africa is that these are people who know a particular Family and don’t have time to look at anything above that level. They are saying that moving it from “Unknown” to “Plants” does not get it any closer to them seeing it; that you are not actually being helpful like you think you are.

Honestly, if you know even some of the flora in your local area, then you know enough to identify at least a few families elsewhere in the world. If you know that hedge bindweed is in the family Convolvulaceae, then you can be pretty sure that other flowers of the same form are also Convolvulaceae – especially if they also grow in vines. If you have specialized in a certain family in your local area, then you know enough characteristics of that family to generalize to other parts of the world. Say you have learned all the Lamicaeae in your home county – well, then you can look at another part of the world and pick out which ones look like Lamiaceae and which do not.

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But have you seen African uploads? Most of their plants look nothing like regular families, people are adding dicots not because they’re too lazy to id the family, they have groups that look like one family, but belong to other, or tons of bushes and flowers that have no analogues outside of the region.


Kind of related topic now that identifying non-local observations has come up:

I’m not, I can’t ‘insist that everyone’
Good intentions of moving stuff from Unknown to Planty, while dutifully following iNat guidelines … feels from my planty side as if people want - it’s green it’s nasty take it AWAY. Why not simply Mark as Reviewed and move on? That is neither an instruction nor a request - I am trying to understand a workflow from the other side please?

It isn’t possible to explain what a different experience iNat is for plants, but I can try.
Yesterday I put up a tortoise obs - broad category, adequate pictures … and it went straight to Research Grade in (iNat has blurred the timestamps but) less than an HOUR. Meanwhile there are 500 Plantae for the Cape Peninsula going back to 2005.

@aspidocelis many discussions across social media 101 revolve around, but I want you all to do it my way! That is why the forum is interesting - another thread running on does anyone use annotations, anyone care if they are wrong, do you even annotate your own obs. It helps me to know that plodding thru leps to annotate as larva, is appreciated.


My work flow is like this: I either search a taxon of interest (often a genus or family), or I search “Needs ID,” often but not always with some geographic and/or time limits. “Needs ID” presents me with observation currently unknown or ID’d to kingdom or lower level. When I’m doing that, I feel that my job is to move the observation down the taxonomic ladder as far as I can. Therefore, I shift all plants to “Plants” or “Dicots,” etc., unless I can move them lower. (I also shift a lot of animals to “winged insects” or “arthropods,” too.)

I think one major difference is that you’re trying to deal with ALL southern African observations. That’s great! However, I view doing ALL of any group that isn’t tiny to be impossible for me. (And when I have reviewed an entire genus and gotten everything neat, then people post more and identify more, so it’s a mess again anyway.) Therefore, I don’t worry about moving things only a little way along the taxonomic path. I figure it all helps. I do admire your efforts to move the southern African plants all the way to species.

I use “reviewed” much less than some others. If I’m checking a genus or the organisms in a limited area, I’ll mark observations “reviewed” if they’re out of focus or just don’t have the traits needed for ID. When I’m doing more general checking of “Needs ID” observations, I don’t mark the ones I can’t name as “reviewed” since that pool is so huge I’ll probably never see the observation again anyway. Also, I may learn more and be able to shove these observations at least a little way down the taxonomic ladder by the time I do see them again.


I’m going to close this thread, as the original post has been answered it’s veered into a pretty different conversation.

When you post your observation to iNaturalist, you are basically saying “I encountered this, what do members of the iNat community think it is?” and anyone can add an ID of any taxonomic level to an observation if they feel they can independently verify it based on the evidence provided. If you don’t want someone to add an ID to your observation before you do, then you shouldn’t post it without an ID. It’s not reasonable to expect the entire community to make exceptions for certain areas and users in regard to this.

If you want more people to ID to finer taxonomic levels, even family, I’d recommend providing some resources you can refer them to, like people have done for Euphorbia or North American syrphids, and reach out to people you think might want to make better IDs in the region. (Maybe these already exist and I’m just not aware of them.)