October 16, 2021

Lovely flower faces, and flower heads alone, are better for attracting pollinators than determining a plant species

Too often, people talk about the different "wildflowers" as if they are different plant species, but they are really only a small part of any species of plant. I've come to the conclusion that while plants created flowers to attract pollinators, humans were also attracted. The degree to which we then focused on the flowers came for much less benefit than the pollinators got for that focus. In the process, the photos people took of any species of plant has tended to focus too much on the flowers, and their faces, more than is best to identify which species the plant is.

Know that distinguishing features for any given plant species may come with any of the following: a view at how the plant as a whole looks; or how any of the countless plant parts look; or with other features of the plant, such as smells, or the way they grow; as well as with photos of, or notes on, the habitat, and plant community, they are growing in. A flower face, or even whole flowering top of plant, alone, only shows a small percentage of the potential distinguishing features of that species. Also views that show both side and face of a flower show more features than just face views. For flowers that form any kind of tube, a side view is needed to show the shape of that tube, and there may be sepals, or leafy bracts, on the side, or back, of a flower, that have distinguishing features of the species. While the time you have to spend may be limited, views showing, and notes on, more features of a plant, improve your chances of getting a good ID.

Also know that the character of the leaves on a plant, that sends up a flower stalk from the ground, changes as you go up, from the larger, more complex, more distinctive, basal leaves, at the bottom of the flower stalk, to the smaller, less complex, leaves further up the stalk, closer to the flowering area, and going into the flowering area, which may have tiny, simple leaves, potentially with no more shape than a tiny finger, just called "bracts". So the most useful photos of leaves are generally the basal leaves, or those that are closest to the basal leaves, at the bottom of the plant, that aren't shriveled up yet. Occasionally cauline leaves (leaves on the flower stalk) have distinctive features, so also having a view of leaves from the middle of the stalk doesn't hurt.

With many groups of plants a view of just a flower face, often only allows me to say which genus it is in, or maybe only which family. Also know that the Aster Family has many species with similar yellow flowers, such as the many dandelion look-a-likes, so for many of these yellow flowered Aster Family members better distinguishing features tend to be found in the basal leaves, rather than the flowers. So if you only have time for one photo of these, one showing the basal leaves will be better than one of a flower, though having views that show both are even better. For some other Aster Family members good views of the side of the flower head, showing the usually green, often somewhat leafy, "involucral bracts", on the side of the whole flower head, may be the biggest key to determining the species.

So remember that if you are overly distracted by the reproductive organs of a plant, that is the flowers, and their faces, you may miss offering key distinguishing features that may allow others to determine, not just how pretty the flowers are, but what species the plant is!

Posted on October 16, 2021 12:28 AM by stewartwechsler stewartwechsler | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 08, 2021

It always helps to use your "Notes" section for some habitat notes

I see too many naturalists, including a number of the most experienced ones, failing to offer any of what I will argue is some of the most important information that can be used to identify the observed species, that is its HABITAT! They will too often only use their "Notes" section to tell us the location, duplicating the information in the satellite map. (I suspect this originates with a need to include location information in field notes, when there was no satellite map that you could zoom in to, or out from, to see the location.) Some location information that you don't think could readily be determined from the satellite map, might still be useful to include.

Every naturalist knows that you first need to know where a species is being observed to know if it is within the range of that species, that is to know whether or not the species it might be identified as, is known to occur where the organism has been seen. If it is being seen in North America, it is not likely to be a kangaroo, only known to occur in Australia. While Australia could be considered the "physical range" of that species, its habitat could be considered the "ecological range" of that species. Learning the ecological range of a species is at least as important as learning the physical range, and reporting the ecological conditions where a species is found, can be one of the biggest keys to knowing what your species might be.

It always helps me when the "Notes" section is used to include at least a short note about the habitat of the observed species. For fungi, and plants, this can include what it is growing in, or on. For plants, it helps to know the other plant species it is rooted in the same material with, and within a short distance from (a shorter distance for shorter rooted, nearby herbs, and a longer distance for longer rooted nearby trees). That material can be wetter, or drier, it can be rockier, sandier, or composed less, or more, of humus, or maybe clay. It could be in an acid bog, or in an additionally salty area, possibly with salt spray, or where some tidal salt water periodically covers the ground, mixed, or not mixed, with fresh water. The spot can also be sunnier, or shadier.

For Animals any information on the physical conditions where it is, and the community of species it is among, is also likely to help. For animals, plants, or fungi, with obligate relationships with other species, such as parasites, it is more important to know the other species it is with, in, or on. Similarly, all animal species have a limited range of what other species they can eat. For example, many caterpillar species can only eat one kind of plant, and all caterpillar species have at least some limited range of "host" plants that they can eat.

Naturally, with plants, and fungi, the more one knows about the natural growing conditions of each species in one's area, and the species communities each species is a member of, the more the information about surrounding species will be useful in determining what the subject species growing with them is. For fungi, if you know plant species it may be growing in, or with, that can be very helpful. If it is growing in wood, and you know the species of wood that can help, if you don't know the species of wood, but still know whether it is of a broad-leafed tree, or if it is coniferous, indicating which often helps. The same is true for plants growing on coniferous, or broad-leafed, "nurse logs". One moss specialist I know does a great job of always including, in his "Notes" section, a short note on what the moss is growing on. This may be partly because mosses are sometimes classified by what they will grow on, and those who study mosses are more likely to understand the importance of knowledge of what the moss grows on.

My older brother / nature mentor liked to say "Habitat!, Habitat!, Habitat!" to emphasize that the first thing you want to note for an ID of a species is what habitat it is in. Then you don't have to worry about knowing how to distinguish a "Short-billed Marsh Wren" (now called a "Sedge Wren") from a "Long-billed Marsh Wren" (now just called a "Marsh Wren") if it is in an actual marsh, where the only "marsh wren" you would ever find would be the one we had called the " 'Long-billed' Marsh Wren".

While iNaturalist asks that observation photos always include the observed species, some photos can be taken at angles, and distances, to give some idea of the larger habitat there, and the other species it is with, without making the observed species hard to see. Another advantage of including views from further away than the best distance to see one individual, is that the way multiple individuals grow together, or gather together, can be a key to recognizing a species.

The essence of identifying a species is the process of narrowing down the possible species, using one potential distinguishing feature after another, and habitat, much like range, is generally one of the best features that can be used as we start to narrow down the possible choices for the species we are seeing!

Posted on October 08, 2021 06:40 PM by stewartwechsler stewartwechsler | 1 observation | 9 comments | Leave a comment

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