Google searches from 'The Plant List'

'The Plant List' is a very useful WORKING LIST (last up-dated as Version 1.1. in 2012) of all known plant species - a collaboration mainly between Royal Botanic Garden, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden, combining multiple checklists plus other collaborators see: http://www.theplantlist.org/1.1/browse/A/-/

Unfortunately, there is a SERIOUS FLAW in terms of RELYING UPON a basic 'Google Search' for illustrations.  Too many users of 'The Plant List' (which as it says is only ADVISORY) focus ONLY upon the images which appear, attempting to MATCH them (often just one or two) with an often inadequate single (perhaps at best a few) photos of the plant they are attempting to identify, which often fails to show diagnostic characteristics.

The images which appear are littered with misidentified plants.  For Himalayan species, my speciality, a significant proportion of the photos are of plants in cultivation (frequently not of know provenance and not reliably identified by experts) - those posting the images are either nurserymen, seedsmen, amateur plant enthusiasts and even when professional horticulturists, they have little idea how to correctly identify plants.  The result is that ANYONE can post ANY image, put ANY NAME to it and this will appear by magic!  My informal research suggests AT LEAST 50% of plants in cultivation in the West under the names of species found in the Himalaya are IMPOSTORS i.e. they have been misidentified.  Usually the genus is correct (though not always) but the species is not.

I have not viewed sufficient images to judge a proportion/%age of misidentified plants but the expression 'LITTERED' is fair.

Having spent 6 months attempting to CORRECT the vast number of misidentified plants on efloraofIndia (see: https://sites.google.com/site/efloraofindia/species) and ENHANCE the submissions, I was left with no choice but to admit defeat, as senior figures were in denial as to what was required - FUNDAMENTAL change.
Often, wild speculative guesses were made, sometimes the evidence was a link to an illustration found by searching on the internet (through google).  I tried to explain that this was UNRELIABLE by using an example: images of Codonopsis ovata - which half the time turn out to be Codonopsis clematideaI am able to accurately tell the two species apart but not many others can - though I have explained the differences on the efloraofIndia data-base and supplied
quality close-up photos of the true Codonopsis ovata taken in Kashmir.  See: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/indiantreepix/maELRIfM_CY

As of January 2018 I have begun working on 4 guides to the flora of the NW Himalaya (Kashmir; Ladakh; Lahaul & Spiti; Himachal Pradesh). These will be available digitally on CDs (likely to take a year or two sustained effort).  I am currently (22nd January) adding Gentianella moorcroftiana.  For each species I check what is considered to be its current name, according to 'The Plant List', always checking if there are any digitised images available from the Kew herbarium (quite often there are not or one would need to take a lot of extra time searching, as unfortunately, out-of-date names from the 19th Century are used - in addition, a major shortcoming is that the resolution is low, such that one cannot see sufficient detail of floral parts or foliage to distinguish between similar species; this situation needs to be rectified at the earliest opportunity).  I also check what images are available by clicking on 'Google' (for an example, Gentianella moorcroftiana, see: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2822179 (go to bottom of page)

I was alarmed to discover, after checking the first 14 images, it took until the 14th to have a CORRECTLY identified photo taken in the wild (on the efloraofIndia site).  It will be informative if I explain each image:

1 - Wikispecies; clearly a cultivated plant; bears NO resemblance to G.moorcroftiana
2 - Wikimedia commons; photo taken by Ghislain for fleur-des-montages.net; bears NO resemblance to G.moorcroftiana appears to be same as No. 1

3 & 4 - Images of other species.

5 - White-flowered plant; P.Chasset, Gentian Research Network, Rutgers University; bears NO resemblance to G.moorcroftiana

6 - Photograph of plant wild in Pakistan; appears close to Gentiana tianshanica; bears NO resemblance to G.moorcroftiana

7 - Painting from Curtis's Botanical Magazine - this does not match what I understand to be G.moorcroftiana

8 & 9 - Images of other species.

10 - Photo of Gentianaceae taken in Tibet; this does not match what I understand to be G.moorcroftiana - probably a Lomatogonium

11 -  Image of other species. 

12 - Low resolution images of pressed specimens from Natural History Museum herbarium; Georeferenced yet the first one I saw the location marked on a map of India was falsely marked in Madhya Pradesh - way too far south for this species!  Also, for some inexplicable reason, someone involved has INCORRECTLY decided that Gentianella moorcroftiana is in fact merely a synonym for Jaeschkea canaliculata - this makes no sense.  I am alarmed by such errors.  How widespread are they?

13 - Image of other species. 

14 - FINALLY, we reach an image of GENTIANELLA MOORCROFTIANA which is correct, see: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=%22Gentianella+moorcroftiana%22&tbm=isch&gws_rd=ssl#gws_rd=ssl&imgrc=jtbGRPwWZWDQ5M:&spf=1516593001373  - though if you look through the postings for this species, you will find that a good deal of confusion has occurred (you will note that in some cases I have checked and made what corrections I could).

I HAVE TO SAY THAT ALL THIS GREATLY CONCERNS ME.  WE RELY TOO HEAVILY ON THE CONTENT OF SEARCHES ON THE INTERNET, TOO MANY PEOPLE BLINDLY ACCEPTING WHAT APPEARS - AND THEN WHEN INFORMATION PROVIDED BY MAJOR INSTITUTIONS CANNOT BE RELIED UPON, THEN WE ARE IN DEEP TROUBLE.  YES, WE ALL CAN MAKE ERRORS BUT EXPERIENCE OVER THREE DECADES, HAS CONFIRMED WHAT I WAS TAUGHT ON AN INTRODUCTORY COURSE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON (WHERE I WAS STUDYING FOR A DEGREE IN BOTANY) IN THE LATE 1970s ABOUT 'DATA-BASES' AND COMPUTERS IN GENERAL: "RUBBISH IN, RUBBISH OUT'.  THERE WAS NO INTERNET AS SUCH IN THOSE DAYS NOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY OR DIGITAL ON-LINE DATA-BASES BUT THE PRINCIPLE REMAINS THE SAME - WHETHER TRADITIONAL PRINTED DATA-BASES ABOUT PLANTS (FLORAS, CHECK-LISTS, PHOTOGRAPHIC-GUIDES) OR WHAT IS AVAILABLE NOWADAYS, NO MATTER HOW ADVANCED OR SOPHISTICATED IT MAY APPEARS, OR ACCESSIBLE THE DATA IS.  IT IS ESSENTIAL TO GET THE BASICS RIGHT, WHICH CLEARLY WE ARE NOT.

THIS APPLIES BOTH TO THE IDENTIFICATION OF CULTIVATED PLANTS AND THOSE IN THE WILD.  WE ARE FAILING TO STUDY THEM CLOSELY ENOUGH,
ACCEPTING MISIDENTIFICATIONS AS IF THEY ARE OF NO CONSEQUENCE.  YET HOW CAN WE POSSIBLE STUDY PLANTS IN OUR GARDENS (PRIVATE OR BOTANICAL OPEN TO THE PUBLIC) OR FOR HIMALAYAN SPECIES, IN THE MOUNTAINS UNLESS THEY ARE RELIABLY IDENTIFIED.

REGRETTABLY, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING, YET THOSE IN SENIOR POSITIONS IN GOVERNMENTS, INSTITUTIONS, SPECIALIST SOCIETIES CONTINUE TO IGNORE WHAT I AM SAYING.  THEY ARE UNWILLING TO 'GRASP THE NETTLE'.

I CARE ABOUT THESE MATTERS.  WE PRETEND TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT CONSERVATION OF PLANTS.  SELF-EVIDENTLY FROM MY CONSIDERABLE EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE IN THIS FIELD, VERY FEW OTHERS DO.  SHAME ON THEM.

FUNNY THAT THESE INDIVIDUALS HOLD SENIOR POSITIONS, EARN A COMFORTABLE LIVING, LIVE IN DETACHED HOMES IN PLEASANT SURROUNDINGS, WITH A DECENT PENSION TO LOOK FORWARD TO - WHILST I CONTINUE TO STUGGLE ON A SHOE-STRING BUDGET AND HAVE BEEN TREATED SHAMEFULLY BY THE MEDIA AND A NUMBER OF SPECIALIST HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES.

WHY IS NOBODY IN A SENIOR POSITION LISTENING TO THESE UNCONFORTABLE TRUTHS, SHEDDING THEIR 'CROCODILE TEARS'.


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