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Let’s see some ID (skills) please ma’am

Okay so I have a new plaything, for this week at least. What is it, you are asking with great anticipation? Google Images. Don’t know what that is? Then Google it! Or click here to jump straight into it.

All jokes aside, Google Images is a very helpful starting point if you want to make an initial identification of a plant species. You simply upload a photo of the plant you have found, and compare it to images retrieved by Google which are similar in appearance.

However, it is not exactly a fool-proof identification tool, and you do need to have some knowledge about plants in order to make it work for you. For example, it really helps if you submit a clear photo of the plant in flower. Hmmm. One thing I have learnt during my time playing with Google Images is that my photographic skills are in need of, one might say, “some improvement”. I uploaded one photo of a plant only to be told that it was “soil”. Yes, soil!!!

Any taxonomists reading this would probably be having heart palpations right now. Yes maybe it is time to revert back to some more tried and trusted means of identifying plants. I am not a plant geneticist, so I don’t have access to DNA-sequencing technology. However, in the olden days (i.e. before the World Wide Web), botanists and the like relied upon “keys” to help them identify plants. What are these special “keys”, you might be asking? Well they are not the key to the city or the key to your brand new car. However, plant keys are books containing some very useful information about plant species. However, you do need to have a basic understanding of plant terminology, i.e. plant parts, and it really helps to have at least one flower and leaf of the plant you want to identify.

However, getting access to botanical keys can be laborious. For a start, they are often b*oody heavy, volume after volume of hardback horticultural heaven. Today more and more botanical keys can be found online. The trick is in knowing where to find them. One of my favourite online keys is VicFlora, an absolute essential if you want to identify an indigenous plant in my home state Victoria.

Illustration: Anita Barley. ©2018 Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.I

Whilst I am no digital native, it is obvious I spend a fair bit of time online. So it probably won’t surprise you to know that I also turn to Facebook for expert plant advice. Yes, Facebook! There are many useful plant identification pages and groups operating on that platform. But my go to when I need help and I want it right now (who doesn’t these days?!) is the Plant Identification Australia group. The admins of this group well and truly “rock” when it comes to helpful, prompt advice on identifying any plant growing in Australia. If they don’t know the answer, they will know who will know.

Well, all this talk of plants is making me hungry! Yeah it does that to me. So it is time to leave you all as I go to partake of my dinner.

Until the next time, bonne nuit!

PS. That’s French for “Good night”, but those of you in the know re: Google Translate just found that out, didn’t you! ;)


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