Tuesday, 13 February 2018

New ways to ID plants

The traditional way of accurately identifying a plant was to ask an experienced horticulturalist or ask a botanist. Sadly, easily accessible experts are thin on the ground so when I have a plant name query I usually fall back on my tried and trusted library of reference books. These technical guides vary in quality from general books such as Stirling Macoby's well-known, What Flower is That? to more technical references such as the five-volume Horticultural Flora of South Eastern Australia written by botanist Roger Spencer. However large the scope of my standard reference books I often frustratingly fail to find an answer to the name or cultivar of the particular plant that is my current obsession. 

The advent of social media sites such as Facebook has seen a new way to ID plants. I must admit I resisted Facebook (FB) for a decade but a couple of years back I signed up. While the diverting pleasures of watching cat videos and viewing my friends holiday pics are distracting I find the pages devoted to horticulture highly rewarding. On FB there are many sites which help answer our collective pleas for help in plant identification. I'm a member of several FB gardening sites and I often enjoy trying to answer a request for an ID posted on these pages.

Plant Identification Australia is one of my favourite FB sites as it has over 2,000 (free) subscribers and its remit is broad in scope. The groups aim  is 'to educate and aid in the identification of any plant found within Australia. If you come across a plant in Australia and don't know what it is, this is the group to ask!' Sounds good, so I gave it a go.

I wish I knew the species name of this winter flowering Sedum

June last year I posted my first appeal for an ID on the Plant Identification Australia group site with a photo of the above plant:

"I have had this winter flowering sedum growing in my garden for ages but don't have a species name. Any ideas?" 

Within minutes I got a reply from a group member called Lewis in Melbourne with the answer Sedum confusum. Double checking on the internet I confirmed that Lewis' identification was indeed correct. After formally thanking him on the site I promptly added the species name to my plant labels.

While my query was quickly addressed I note from observing other requests for help that a proper identification is often open to debate. While someone may assertively ID a plant on the site there is often a quick response from others who offer alternative answers. Often these debates are caused by the questioner not putting up a decent photograph or description, but most times these debates are quickly resolved with a collectively agreed answer.

While Plant Identification Australia is very general in nature, other FB groups are much more specialised, so you can find groups on (among others) cacti, vegetables and native plants. While signing up to these sites won't lead to you throwing out your standard paper references I'm sure they will help you get more pleasure from your garden.

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