How works


Important Ideas


How works behind the scenes


What’s next 

Introduction to is a website that is organized to make it reasonably easy for anyone to identify California non-garden plants.

How It Works

Take these three steps to identify California plants in the wild:



Important Ideas

Easy Search Choices

If you don’t find an Illustrated Plant List that matches your interest, you can enter your own Easy Search choices.  Here’s how it works:

o   Start by entering the California county you’re in.  This skips plants you’ll never see.  The system remembers your county until you change it.

o   Plant Type: Click Tree, Shrub, Flower, etc. 

o   Flower shape and color.  Most users want to identify a flower.  If so, it’s generally easy to click its color and shape.  You can click several (e.g. pink and red) if you’re not sure.

o   Leaf arrangement – if this is obvious to you, it will eliminate even more possibilities.

Entering this much information is easy – just some clicks.  Then click the [Search] button.


Illustrated Plant List

·         An Illustrated Plant List is a short list of plants you’ll see in a specific situation.  For instance:

o   Early Spring Wildflowers of Mt. Burdell, or

o   Marin County Manzanitas, or

o   The results of an Easy Search (e.g. Pink, 6 petals, in Marin County)

The list is designed to be short, so you can reasonably look through it to find the plant you’re looking for.

·         The illustrated list is filled with ID aids, including:

o   Thumbnail photos with captions, picked to illustrate key ID points for this plant.

o   Text ID tips, including blooming season, habitat, size, and California native status.



The Slideshow presents lots of full-size photos for the plant you chose from the Illustrated Plant List.  Photos are presented one to a page, with:

o   A caption describing interesting ID points in the photos.  These captions are written by experts, and are reviewed for accuracy and clarity. 

o   Future feature - Below the caption will be a comments section for anyone to write in.

o   The left column has several useful references:

§  A table of contents from the Illustrated Plant List that called this slideshow.  Use it to link to other plants in the list.

§  Useful database taxon information (e.g. bloom months, family, CA native status).

§  Links back to other Illustrated Plant Lists – showing where else you can see this plant.  This will become increasingly valuable as more Illustrated Plant Lists become available.


Kinds of Users

·         General User – Anybody with an interest in plants, but who may not know a stipule from a stipe. 

·         Experts – People chosen carefully to contribute to the main content of the site.  They include:

o   Photographers – people who take sharp photos of interesting plant features, and who know their plant IDs really well.

o   Local Experts – people chosen by to describe a specific Illustrated Plant List.

o   Writers – people chosen by to enter information via the Writing Tool.

o   Reviewers and Editors – people chosen by to review and edit content entered by Writers.



In the interest of clear communication, we describe plants with everyday English.  We’ll put technical terms in parenthesis if we think you’d like to know.


For instance, we talk about daisy petals (ray flowers).

Writing Tool and Articles

Text to be presented as part of is carefully organized to build on text others have already entered.  A special Writing Tool allows authors to quickly assemble Articles such as:

o   Illustrated Plant Lists,

o   Default Taxon Articles,

o   Link Lists,

o   Glossary Entries, and so forth.

Articles are organized to take advantage of what has already been defined.  For instance, in an Illustrated Plant List:

o   The Writer enters a list of taxa, provided by a Local Expert.

o   Default thumbnails, captions, and full photo descriptions are automatically applied if the taxon has already been defined

o   The Writer can add or customize descriptions as appropriate.


How Works Behind the Scenes

Here are key datasets, tools, and deployment methods.

Database Data

Database information is downloaded from (taxon info), (search by flower shape, color, leaf arrangement), and Jepson (U.C. Jepson Herbarium taxon info).  Other data, such as Photo and Article table data, is custom to  Here are the main tables:

o   Taxon – about 10,000 records from Calflora, track information about California taxa.

o   Photo – points to each photo and tracks taxon, photographer, location, date taken, etc.

o   Article, Article Items and Notes – these tables track Articles generated with the Writing Tool. 

o   About 20 other tables contain related information, such as Common Names, Families, Plant Type, etc.


o   We currently have a little under 30,000 full-size photos.  The largest contributors are William Follette and Keir Morse. 

o   Photos are stored at 72 dpi, with the shorter edge about 7 inches long.  This is efficient for downloading to web pages, but big enough to show a good amount of detail.

o   Steve Matson and Neal Kramer have agreed to allow to use their photos, which will bring the total to over 50,000 photos, accurately identified to taxon.

o   Keir, Steve and Neal are generally recognized plant experts, which makes our IDs reliable.  Other photos are reviewed by Doreen Smith or other local experts, for accuracy. Writing Tool

This is a separate program designed to allow authorized Writers to efficiently create and maintain Articles. and

o   New program development and new article creation is viewable in  This lets Local Experts and Reviewers to see emerging Articles before they’re published.

o is the production site, and gets updated when new program features or new articles are published to it from


What’s Next

This Summer

o   Bruce will use the new Writing Tool to create 10 to 20 additional Illustrated Plant Lists in Marin County.

o   He’ll work with a variety of Local Experts, getting them familiar with the site, and recording their knowledge.

o   We’ll encourage Local Experts and other CNPS Marin chapter members to spread the word, encouraging people to use as they prepare to take plant walks.

o   Bruce will a new program features, including General User Login, Comment Entry, and Peer Review.

o   Think about these challenges:

o   Make the Writing Tool robust enough for approved Writers other than Bruce.  This is probably essential for scaling to the state level.

o   Right now Bruce is entering default ID hints, thumbnails and captions.  He’s not the best qualified to do this.  How should we look for more qualified people to take this on?

o   Build a tool to allow Writers who are plant experts to create a Slideshow about a taxon.  With full-size photos and unlimited numbers of photos, this could create some compelling content.  See current slideshows for Marin Manzanitas and Marin Ceanothuses as examples.

o   Bruce eventually needs to find a parent organization to take over, so it doesn’t die when he leaves.

This Fall

o   If we have a good looking assortment of Illustrated Plant Lists in general use for Marin County, start working with Phyllis and others to create a state-wide program.  We plan to work with local CNPS chapters to provide Local Experts across the state.

o   Continue to automate the Article development process.

o   Put in place appropriate editing and review controls.


o   This system should be national.  It has potential to make plant identification much more accessible to almost everybody.  We’ll have to figure out how to reconcile different state taxon definitions, but that is probably manageable.

o   A national effort should follow a successful California rollout.