The Plant List is a new resource for plant nerds and plant-nerd-amateurs like me. It covers all known species of plants.
It lists 1,040,426 scientific plant names of which 298,900 are accepted names. Common names are not included, not one, and this is not a key to identification.
So what interest does this site have for me? I’m not in the plant-naming business. I am trying to identify the plants in my area.
The purpose of The Plant List is to help people use the correct name so that, as suggested in the quotation above, we can learn more about it. Without knowing the correct name of the plant, any information I search for on whether birds or bats eat its fruit, for instance, would be meaningless. I need the correct name to learn whether it is native or introduced, whether it has medicinal properties, and so forth.
How I plan to use the site
Recently I posted some images of a small tree or shrub I couldn’t identify to Flickr, with a link to Facebook. Kindly botanists at both places helped identify the plant as Casearia commersoniana in the family Salicaceae. I’m confident that the botanist who identified the plant to name is correct, but I have the plant in hand, or rather in my back yard, and so I’d like to do two things with this site: 1) find a complete description of the plant so I can compare it with what I have and thereby learn more botany, and 2) use the links so handily put into one place to learn what researchers already know about the plant.
At The Plant List home page, I enter the name Casearia commersoniana in the handy Search box in the right-hand column. Immediately, I’m taken to a page that tells me that Casearia commersoniana Cambess. is an accepted name. Here’s a screen shot of the top part of what I see (so don’t expect the links to work!)
I see three stars to the left of the name – two are dark green and one is light green. This means that the people who put together the site have a 2-out-of-3 level of confidence that this name is indeed an accepted name (see how cautious botanists are!).
I also see a list of synonyms (14) and links at the bottom of the page for further information about this species. (Another screen shot.)
The very first thing I want to do with this is go to the original publication cited at the top of the page – Fl. Bras. Merid. (1830). Since this is a journal I’m not familiar with, I follow the link to IPNI and learn that the full name of the journal is Flora Brasiliae Meridionalis.
Since the publication came out in 1830, I’m hoping I can find the original paper at the Biodiversity Heritage Library. You can see that it is listed as one of the sources of further information at the bottom of the page. (Ah, yes, it’s there. In Latin. Should have known.)
So this starts me on my way toward my first goal – to compare my plant with the original description. After I piece together what I can from the original paper, I’ll search for other publications that describe the plant. This way I learn more botany while confirming the identification of my plant.
My second goal will probably be easier to attain, but will still take some time. I’ll go through the other links on this page to put together a little story about the biology and the ecology of this particular plant.
None of this would be possible for a novice like me unless I knew its accepted name.