Guide to Using Go Botany

by | Environment, Reviews

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There are many plant identification apps available online, but Go Botany is different. As a plant database, rather than an automatic detection app, it is the only resource dedicated to accurate self-guided identification of New England plants. Go Botany gives users three options for different keys to start the identification process.

What Is Go Botany?

Go Botany is an online key where anyone can identify plants using several keys, or search for information about a plant within the New England area. There is also a PlantShare section where you can ask a botanist questions. You can access Go Botany here.

The Go Botany project is supported by member contributions and grants as a part of Native Plant Trust. There is also a statement on the website stating the project is supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Who Owns Go Botany?

Native Plant Trust is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is known as the United States’ first plant conservation organization. With a focus on New England native plants, the organization is headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts.

This location is their main botanical garden featuring paved pathways and retail shops, though they also have a native plant nursery and seed bank in Whately, Massachusetts, and six native plant sanctuaries throughout New England.

The organization also manages a significant rare plant program that surveys native plant species and spearheads conservation policies and information. Native Plant Trust runs a wide range of public programs for everyday people and professionals alike, as well as provide education resources and opportunities.

Image: Jack in the Pulpit discovered in New England woods.

What Regions Does Go Botany Cover?

The Go Botany database provides a comprehensive look into New England plants. While users outside of New England can benefit from the resources, it only includes plants that are a part of the regional New England landscape.

Attempting to use Go Botany outside of the New England area may not provide the accuracy that you are looking for, though it can still help you identify plants that are also found in New England. The limited scope of this database allows Native Plant Trust to provide accurate information without overwhelming users with options.

How To Use GoBotany

There are two common ways to use Go Botany. The first applies if you know the plant you are looking for and need more information on it. The second applies if you are trying to identify a plant and need a key to help.

If you know what plant you are looking for, you can type the name directly into the search box. If the plant is within the New England plant database, you will see a search result. You can search by genus, species, family, or common name.

In addition to returning results for possible plant matches, the search will also return Q&A discussions posted by people in the PlantShare form where you can use the ‘Ask the Botanist’ feature.

Upon clicking on the plant result, you’ll be direct to a page that contains a wide range of maps, information, characteristics and distribution or conservation status.

If you do not know the name of the plant you are looking for but need to identify one that you have in front of you, you can use the keys. There are three keys you can choose from, but we’ll use the Full Key.

Here, you should choose which group best fits the characteristics of your plant. You’ll also need to choose a subgroup. From there, you’ll be directed to a list of possible matches, and a sidebar with questions.

By answering the identification questions, you’ll slowly narrow down which plants best fits the description.

While Go Botany might not be as fast as other plant identification apps, it is a great way to learn botanical terminology and begin identifying plants on your own. It is also a great tool to identify plants to a subspecies with accuracy and confidence; something that is particularly important for assisting Native Plant Trust’s goal of conserving rare and endangered native plants.  

Difference Between Simple Key, Full Key, and Dichotomous Key

Identification keys can help you learn how to better identify plants based on a series of questions. It is best to think of a key like a flow chart where you select different plant characteristics. From there, the key will show you the possibilities based on which plants fit those criteria.

Using identification keys is a great way to learn how to begin identifying plants on your own. A dichotomous key will help you identify a plant based on two contrasting features at a time, so you never feel overwhelmed by the different options.

The full key asks a range of questions and provides answers based on the selections you make, similar to a flowchart with multiple starting points. In the Go Botany full key, the first question asks you to identify the plant based on what group best describes it. You can see key characteristics, images, exceptions, and an informational video about each group.

The simple key is a simplified version of the full key and follows many of the same steps as the full key. If you are in-person with the plant you are trying to identify and able to take the time, it is best to use the full key. Otherwise, the simple key will save a nominal amount of time.

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About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.

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