Monday, February 4, 2013

Vascular Plant Identification Help Tool

We are now developing an identification help tool for vascular plants on E-Flora BC and it needs a lot of testing. If you have time to test the tool, send comments to Let us know what characters you used to try to find matches, and whether or not these were helpful in finding your plant. This information will help us fine tune the tool and ensure that most species are captured in the search.  We can check your plant ID if you are uncertain.

The intent of the tool is to provide users with a set of possible matches to the vascular plants/wildflowers they are trying to identify (note that it is not aimed at finding an exact match).  The possible matches are selected based on 1) search words you enter in the search box, or 2) search terms you select from our character lists, or 3) a combination of both.

The tool will search the content our our atlas pages, the bulk of which is the content from the Illustrated Flora of British Columbia.  The Illustrated Flora, published from 1998-2002, provides a definitive work on the flora of BC. That is, vascular plants that are growing wild in BC, without cultivation. Many new species have been added to the BC flora since their publication, and these are reflected in E-Flora BC

If using multiple characters is not effective in calling up suitable matches, try working with fewer characters, or even one character. Play around with the terms you are using or selecting. This sort of screening can significantly reduce the number of possible plants that could match your plant.

There are some limitations of the tool:

1) the tool is powered by Google Custom Search, which means that Google will only display ten pages of results.

2) sometimes Google displays thumbnails in the search results so that you can quickly browse, but sometimes these are not provided.

3)  because the tool only searches our content, that content may not include some search terms that you enter. If this happens, try different terms.

4) Google displays the results in no particular order.

5) terminology used in the Illustrated Flora is not always consistent within a family or genus. We are working towards adding terminology to the pages in these cases, once we know about them.

6) colour is a difficult term to search for. This is because while you may be searching for a flower colour, such as red, the content in our atlas pages may also use colour for stems, bracts, leaves, or even status (e.g. red-listed).  So search results will sometimes call up unrelated results. We hope to improve on this and exclude some terms.

Even with these limitations, though, we hope the tool will help narrow your identification search. The tool will help you 'see' plant characters that will be helpful in identifying your plant. If the search doesn't call up a possible match for your plant, it may be that it at least brings up similar species.  In those cases, try browsing through other members of a family or genus to see if your plant is among those.

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