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 The System and the Thinking Behind it

What is the point?

Do you find identification of plants confusing? Do you flick through wildflower guides trying to remember what the plant you saw looked like? Have you struggled over complex botanical keys? If, like me, you answered yes to these questions, then this system might be what you need.

Classically, plants are identified using botanical keys. These keys ask a series of questions, each with a choice of two answers. Depending on the answer another question is posed and so on until sufficient answers have been given to identify the plant. Although keys are successful they have some flaws. For example, they may require information that is not available, also an error made in answering one of the questions is compounded as the wrong branch of questions is followed.

The reason why looking in an illustrated field guide and for that matter why human experts are often faster at identifying plants, is because the overall impression of a wide variety of characteristics is simultaneously used to determine the identification.

This experimental system tries to combine some of the useful features of keys without many of their drawbacks. It allows users to enter only the information they have on a plant or to enter different combinations of characteristics. If the information entered matches a plant then it will be listed in the results. If an exact match cannot be found and sufficient information has been supplied then the next best matches are displayed. The results are displayed in order of the plants abundance so that users can ignore rare plants, if appropriate.

In addition to plant identification, the system can be used to produce a checklist of plants in a particular habitat or belonging to a particular family. However, owing to limits on server bandwidth, the number of plants in the results is restricted to one hundred.

The two thousand plants included in the database are all those native or naturalised in Britain. Also there are a few other plants which may be encountered growing in wild habitats. If you live in another country of Northern Europe or Northern North America you may also find many of the plants familiar.

Under Development

This system is experimental and is run in my spare time. As such, its further development depends on whether it works and whether it can be supported. For these reason I welcome all constructive feedback and offers of support. Further development would also be aided by the inclusion of more data. If anyone has any data they think might be suitable of inclusion then do not hesitate to contact me. A compete list of the species still requiring illustation can be found by clicking here


Quentin Groom