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Contributing Plant Observations

Frequently Asked Questions     Updated March 16, 2020
Registration and Profiles

Contributing Observations

General Information

Assigning Locations to Observations

Who can contribute observations?
Anyone who is registered as a Calflora contributor, and who can reliably identify the plants they are observing.

Can I contribute observations anonymously?
No. Calflora is an online library of plant information. All information must have a source to be listed in references.

Where do my observations go?
Observations are converted into appropriate formats and stored in a database.

How do I get my observations back?
When you want to see all of the observations you have contributed, go to the My Observations application, and press . To download your observations in various flat file formats or GeoJSON, go to the Download application, and search for observations with your name as the observer.

Are contributed observations reviewed?
Incoming observations are reviewed by Calflora staff to ensure no gross error; however, correctness of identification is NOT reviewed. The reliability of the observation is entirely the responsibility of the contributor. Calflora now has an annotation system to allow for peer review of observations.

How do I register to contribute Plant Observations?
First, register as a Calflora contributor (from the My Calflora page). The contributor registration form asks for certain information about your background and experience with plants. Once you have completed the contributor registration process, you may contribute observations.

How do I change my personal profile?
You may update your profile at any time. Go to My Calflora / Contributor Profile to update your profile.

If you would like other Calflora contributors to be able to see your email address when viewing your contributor profile, go to My Calflora / Preferences, check the box, and press .

How do I add a plant observation?

    Register as a Contributor if you haven't already.

    Bring up the Plant Observation Entry application, and press . Field names written in green are required. For an explanation of any field, click on the name of that field.

    To choose a plant, go to the Scientific Name field, and type the first three letters. A typeahead name finder is enabled for over 30,000 California plant names. Choose your plant from the list of matching plant names that appears below the field. There is also a typeahead name finder for common names.

    If you are not sure what the plant is, enter unknown in the Scientific Name field.

    Choose a location on the map. The map starts outside Fresno. Drag the map to get close to the area of your observation, then zoom in. (If you change to the "Satellite" view, you may be able to identify certain trees, rock formations, or buildings to help find your exact location.) Open Point Location and press . Your next simple click on the map will become the location of the record.

    At the top right of the page above the map, there is a Map Layers control, which lets you choose which background layer is shown on the map. Certain layers, such as the California Protected Areas Database, may help you to pick the correct location for your observation.

    Press Add a photo to attach one or more photos to your observation record. You can upload photos to Calflora directly from your computer -- or, if your photo is already on the web at another location, you can simply paste in the URL of the photo.

    When you share a photo with Calflora in this way, whenever your photo appears on Calflora, it will have your name next to it as the copyright holder. You can delete it from Calflora at any time.   (See also Can I add photographs (photo vouchers) to my observation?)

    When you have filled in as many fields you can, press . Your observation will be written to the database. If you set Access by others to published, the record will be immediately available to other Calflora users.

    See also Plant Observation Entry HELP.

I would like to contribute a large collection of observations ... ?

    If you would like to contribute a large collection of observations in a format such as a spreadsheet, database, or MS Word document, Calflora staff would be happy to work with you directly (contact).

How can I see other observations of the same plant in the general area of my observation?

  1. Bring up the Plant Observation Entry application.

  2. Enter / choose the name of the plant.

  3. Move the map to the general area, and zoom in appropriately.

  4. Open History .

  5. Under where it says Find nearby observations of ..., press . If no records are found, zoom out a bit and try again.

  6. To see information about a particular record, click on the point on the map, and an information window will appear.

How do I add a checklist of observations?

Bring up the Survey / Checklist Entry application (HELP). Press .

To add plants, click on the PLANT LIST tab.

  • To enter plants one-by-one, press Add One Plant, and use the typeahead name finder for either scientific or common names.
  • To paste in a list of plants, press Add a List of Plants.

This application is used to enter a checklist (or floristic survey, or botanical inventory) of plants growing wild at a discrete location. It can also be used to enter places where native plants have been planted, such as a native plant garden or a restoration site. To search for surveys and checklists, use the Survey / Checklist Search application.


How do I indicate whether or not there is public access to the location?

    The entry applications have a field called Access, indicating whether or not the public can visit this site. Please set the value of this field accurately, so that people who might like to visit a place are properly forewarned. There is a choice of three values:
    public access The public may visit this site, subject to business hours and/or seasonal restrictions. A fee may be required (eg. at a State Park).
    restricted access It may be possible to visit this site by special arrangement. For many preserves, access is limited to a few pre-arranged, docent-led hikes each year, and/or volunteer work days.
    no access  

Can I add photographs to my observations?
You can upload photos directly to Calflora, as part of an observation record. Or, if you have put your photos of the plant somewhere on the web (somewhere stable), you can associate the URL of those photos with an observation record. To do so, press Add a photo and enter

  1. URL: the web address of your photo. This could be a on your own website, or on a public photo service.

  2. Credit: the year the photo was taken, and the name of the photographer. If you are not the photographer, please get permission from the photographer before adding the photo.

  3. Caption: an explanation of the photo. The presumption is that the photo was actually taken at the location described in the observation.
How can I add a photo to an existing observation record, uploading the photo directly from my computer?
  1. Go to the My Observations application, and find the record. Click on the ID of the record, and then press edit.

  2. When the Plant Observation Entry application comes up, press , and then open
    Add a photo.

  3. Check Upload a file from your computer. Then press and select the file. Then press -- you will see a message about the photo being uploaded.

  4. When it is done, a small version of the photo will appear. Click on the photo to change the caption or the credit. If the photo is not right, press DELETE to get rid of it.

  5. At this point, you have changed the observation record by adding a photo attachment. Press at the top of the page to save the record.
Note that photos uploaded to Calflora are shrunk to 1200 x 900, and stored without exif information.  

Where will my photographs appear on Calflora?

    When you share a photo with Calflora in this way, whenever your photo appears on Calflora, it will have your name next to it as the copyright holder. In My Calflora / Preferences, you have two options for sharing your photos: Calflora use only or CC BY-NC 4.0. You can delete your photo from Calflora at any time.

    Photos associated with an observation can be viewed on the Calflora Observation Detail page. For example, here is an observation of Caladrinia menziesii from Adam Chasey. Note that CC BY-NC 4.0 appears next to the photo, which indicates that the contributor has chosen to share photos according that license.

I made a mistake entering an observation, how do I correct it?
    To edit an observation you have already entered, first go to the My Observations application, and press . Click on the ID of the observation, then press edit. The Plant Observation Entry will come up, showing the chosen record. You are already editing the record. Make any changes, then press .

    If necessary, you may also delete an observation you have contributed. (If you have any questions, please contact Calflora staff.)

What observations are most useful?
There are many different kinds of useful observations, depending on what goals you are trying to achieve. Including photos with an observation is most helpful.
  1. Documenting species not previously known from a county or area.
  2. Documenting new weeds to an area, especially invasive weeds.
  3. Further documenting plants previously predicted or reported to occur in an area, but that currently lack expert documentation or specimens.
  4. Confirming the continuing presence of plants not observed in the last 25 years in a county/area.
  5. Filling in distribution 'holes' for particular species. For example, California poppy is presumed to grow in every county of California, however there are still several counties that have no documented or voucher based records available.

Can I report negative observation data?

To report negative observation data -- that is, that you looked for a plant and did not find it -- use Plant Observation Entry (POE), and choose the Advanced data collection project. Then enter 0 as the value of Number of Plants.

Note that negative observation data is really only useful with respect to the area searched, and the date(s) that the search took place. Using POE, you can draw a polygon to indicate the area searched.

I want to contribute a large set of observations.
If you would like to contribute a large set of observations, Calflora staff would be happy to work with you directly (contact).

Why can't the system find my species name?
The intention of Calflora is to track plants occurring in the wild in California, either native or naturalized. Thus, many horticultural plants are not present in the database.

Also, scientific names of plants do change occasionally. Calflora attempts to keep track of these changes in the Plant Name Library (aka synonymy database). Thus, it should not matter if you enter a scientific name no longer in current use -- Calflora users should be able to find your observation via synonomy options available on the Calflora search pages.

If you are entering a plant name in the Plant Observation Entry application (or entering plant names one-by-one in the Survey / Checklist Entry application), the scientific name typeahead feature will check your name against about 30,000 plant names, and let you know if it is not found. This is a way of reducing spelling mistakes. However, even if your plant name is not found, the databse will still accept it.

If you are using the Survey / Checklist Entry application, and plan to paste in a list of names, you can see a preview of which names the scanner will find. Enter your list into the CNPLX Nomenclature Analyzer. This is also a good way to find spelling mistakes.

Why are repeat observations for the same plant in the same area useful?
Observations of the same plant in the same area by various observers are useful in the sense that, the more observations, the stronger the evidence of the presence of that plant. Also, repeat observations of plants that have not been seen in 5 years or more are a valuable way to reconfirm the continued health and persistence of a local population.

I encountered an error or unexpected result while contributing -- what do I do?
Please contact us with any problems, questions, or suggestions on the system so that we may improve it for your use. Please include with the following information, if possible.

    What browser and version are you using?
    Why kind of computer and operating system?
    Which Calflora web application are you using?
    What did you do immediately prior to the problem?
    Please include your name, email, and the date of contribution if possible.


How can I identify plants?
Please contribute only observations for plants that you can comfortably and confidently identify.

Identifying plants is a lot like reading books... there are some books that are easy to read, and some that are hard. Likewise some plants are easy to identify, and some are more difficult. You generally get better at reading by tackling progressively harder books, expanding your vocabulary and learning as you go.

Calflora staff is committed to helping you learn more about plants, but unfortunately we do not have the resources to identify plants. There are many other resources available to help expand the number of plants you recognize. If your plant was growing in the wild, you can try contacting your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Also, the people who work at native nurseries can be very helpful in identifying local plants.

There are Calflora users in the Plant ID Help group who are willing to try to identify plants from photos. To get help from this group,

  • join the group;
  • make an observation record of the mystery plant with photos;
  • if you have no idea what it is, put unknown as the scientific name;
  • associate the observation record with the Plant ID Help group.

If your plant was NOT growing in the wild, you should try asking at your local plant nurseries or Botanical Garden.The UC Davis Herbarium also offers plant identification services to the public for a fee.

If all else fails, you can also obtain permission to collect a specimen of the plant in question, and share that specimen with experts in that plant group.

What information do you need for observations?
The most basic information that is needed is

  • Who: Which person(s) made the observation and identification?
  • What is the scientific name of the plant?
  • When was the observation made?
  • Where was the plant observed?

I've observed a plant that I think needs some attention, what should I do?

Rare, Endangered, or Threatened Plants:

  • Join the Rare Plant Data Collectors group.
  • Make an observation record of the plant with photos.
  • Associate the observation record with the Rare Plant Data Collectors group, so that other members of this group will easily be able to find your observation.
  • You may choose to keep the record unpublished if you think the plant might be in danger. You may also contact a local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ask their advice about what further action to take.

Early Detection Target Weeds:

If you find a weed that you can identify, and you have never seen it in that location before:

  • Join the Early Detection Network group.
  • Make an observation record of the plant with photos.
  • Associate the observation record with the Early Detection Network group, so that other members of this group will easily be able to find your observation.


When will my observation show up on the maps?
Your observation report will be added to the observation database table as soon as you save it. If you set Access by others to published:

  • It will be available immediately to other Calflora users in an Observation Search search for the relevant species.

  • It will be available within two hours in a geographic Observation Search search (that is, a search where the area is specified geogrphically; eg. within the map area, or within the bounds of a polygon).

  • It will appear on the Taxon Report page map for that species within the week.


How do I find out the Latitude, Longitude, or UTM for the location I was at?
The Plant Observation Entry page has an embedded Google Map. If you can find where you were when you saw the plant on this map, just use that location. On the other hand, if you used a portable GPS unit when you made the observation, you can enter the coordinates of your observation as either latitude / longitude or as UTM.

What is 'datum', and why do I need to be aware of it?
A 'datum' is a frame of reference when plotting locations on a globe.

Just as "Hollywood" can be "Hollywood, California" or "Hollywood, Florida", Latitude / Longitude and UTM can be in "NAD 1927" or "NAD 1983". Properly defined, NAD 27 is North American Datum of 1927. A reference point datum based on the Clarke Ellipsoid of 1866, a fixed position and orientation were named starting at Meade's Ranch in Kansas. Based upon this information latitudes and longitudes were calculated for all points based primarily on triangulation. NAD 1983 is a datum based on the GRS 80 Ellipsoid, and fixed position and orientation at the center of the earth. The measurements used in NAD 27 were adjusted- this time using a computer. This results in a different latitude and longitude for a location when compared to its NAD 27 values, with the difference often amounting to hundreds of feet.

Most quality maps with latitude, longitude, or UTM measurements on them also display which datum was used. For example, most USGS Maps display the datum in the lower left hand corner, along with what projection they used (Projections are methods to display features of the round earth on flat paper with minimum distortion.) Most older USGS maps are NAD 27. Many newer maps and most GPS unit readings are NAD 83. Using the wrong datum can cause your location to be off as much as 100 meters (325 feet). If your precision is much less than this, then choosing the correct datum is less critical.

Should I give an imprecise location for rare plants I observe?
Since Calflora is a library, we leave it up to the contributing author -- you -- to decide what level of precision you want to share. Some people feel that information increases the vulnerability of rare plants to vandalism or poaching; others feel that the only way to protect these species is to know exactly where they are to protect them and educate the public about them.

You have a wide range of choice in reporting locations.

    Less Precise More Precise
    Mt. Hamilton, Alameda County Lazy Creek Road, 2.1 miles south of the intersection with Peralta Avenue just outside the town of Rattlesnake Bluff, under canopy of lone valley oak
    at Lat/Long 39.75, -121.75
    at Lat/Long 39.75213441, -121.75042231

For research purposes, the more precise the location, the better.

For certain populations of plants determined to be especially vulnerable, Calflora reserves the right to alter the submitted location to make it deliberately imprecise. This step has been taken very occasionally in order to minimize the threat to the population from the possibility of plant predation.

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