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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I?

Q. How do I look up a single name or symbol?
A. Use the PLANTS Name Search at the top of the left hand menu. If you want a list for an entire genus or family with synonyms, or a state, please use the State Search instead.

Q. How do I obtain a copy of the entire PLANTS checklist?
A. Go to Download/Complete PLANTS Checklist on the left hand menu, or click here.

Q. How do I use your downloaded PLANTS information?
A. Most of our data are downloaded as uncompressed ASCII text, and can be imported into word processing, spreadsheet, or database programs of your choice.

Q. How do I refine my search using multiple criteria?
A. Using the Advanced Search (top of the left hand menu) you can search and download all the data at PLANTS with comprehensive flexibility. You can also do geographic searches via the State Search function, but only for a limited number of criteria (scientific name, common name, symbol, family, and state distribution).

Q. How do I find county distributions?
A. PLANTS contains county-level distributional data for all 50 states, and these are listed in the legend of the distribution map in a species' PLANTS Profile. After selecting a species and viewing its PLANTS Profile, check the distribution map to see if the plant occurs in the state of interest. Consult the map legend to see if we offer county distribution data for that state, and if so, click that state on the map or the state postal code in the legend to view the county level map.

Q. How do I find information about a plant that is growing in my front yard?
A. PLANTS mostly has native and naturalized plants of the PLANTS Floristic Area (PFA), which consists of North America and all additional U.S. territories and protectorates. PLANTS generally does not contain information about horticultural or cultivated plants such as you can buy at a nursery. Please use the search engines available on the Web to locate horticultural, crop, and gardening sites, consult your local nursery or grower, ask your school, city, or university science reference librarian, or consult the agricultural or horticultural extension person for your area.

Q. Where can I find more detailed information than you’ve provided me with?
A. Please use the search engines available on the Web to locate horticultural, crop, and gardening sites, consult your local nursery or grower, ask your school, city, or university science reference librarian, consult the agricultural or horticultural extension person for your area, or consult your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district office or NRCS Plant Materials specialist.

Why Can’t I? (& Why Don’t You?)

Q. I can’t find the plant I’m interested in. Why not and how can I? I think a list from which to choose would be helpful!
A. PLANTS contains information about vascular plants, lichens, mosses, liverworts, and hornworts that occur spontaneously within the PLANTS Floristic Area (North America and all additional U.S. territories and protectorates). PLANTS does not always contain common garden plants or plants that occur only outside the U.S. The PLANTS Name Search (top of the left hand menu) should find your plant if it is in the database, since it automatically looks for any record containing the string you entered. Check your spelling if you are convinced that your plant is in the database, and try to enter only part of the name. See our page on Wildcards for more information.

Q. Why don’t you have a photo for a plant species in which I am interested?
A. We are building our Gallery as fast as time and money allow. Many species do not have readily available images. Try searching for additional photos using one of the Web search engines, and check More Accounts and Images and Related Web Sites at the PLANTS Profile.

Q. Will you identify a plant for me?
A. We’d like to but it is very difficult to do without specimens; verbal descriptions rarely suffice. If the identification is important to you consult your local library, especially a college or university library, for references used to identify the native or horticultural plants of your area. Illustrations, either photos or line drawings, can be most helpful. Alternatively, consult the local herbarium (plant specimen museum) at one of the land grant institutions, hopefully nearby, or another nearby college or university. Your local agricultural or horticultural extension person may also be able to help. Other web-based resources have illustrative material or staff that can answer such questions, especially if the plant is unusual and growing spontaneously (not cultivated) and therefore of interest to local or state institutions.

Nomenclature, Synonymy, & Data Issues

Q. What plants are in the PLANTS database?
A. The PLANTS database contains native and naturalized plants of the PLANTS Floristic Area (PFA), which consists of North America and all additional U.S. territories and protectorates. Vascular plant distributions are mapped at the state and province level, and by U.S. county. Our checklists for the non-vascular mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens cover all of North America north of Mexico; no additional distribution data are available for these plants. The total number of PFA accepted taxa at the rank of binomial and below is about 38,000. Comprehensive data for the U.S. territories and protectorates in the PFA Pacific Basin area are in preparation but are not yet included at PLANTS. PLANTS also has about 5000 vascular plants that do not occur spontaneously (i.e., are not naturalized) in the PFA; most of these are of economic importance, and many of them are cultivated within the PFA.

Q. How are your vascular plants arranged?
A. According to the Cronquist system, as published in: Cronquist, A. 1981. An integrated system of classification of flowering plants. The New York Botanical Garden. Columbia University Press, New York.

Q. What do you mean by native and introduced?
A. In PLANTS, native means naturally occurring at the time of Columbus. Introduced plants arrived later, invariably with human assistance, from some other part of the world. Introduced plants reproduce spontaneously in the wild without human help. Waifs persist for a time and then disappear. Garden Persistent plants remain around old homesteads but do not spread from them. At PLANTS we use Introduced since it is widely known rather than the similar term naturalized. Because people have been moving plants for thousands of years, and because it is often hard to know how a plant got where it is, Native Status is frequently ambiguous and therefore difficult to assign.
We have broken the PLANTS Floristic Area (PFA) into Native Status jurisdictions to try to improve our information about where plants are native. A plant that is native to any part of a Native Status jurisdiction (e.g., L48, the lower 48 states) is considered Native, even if some populations within that area are introduced. Thus the L48 Native Status value for smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is N (Native) despite the existence of introduced populations on the West Coast. However, a plant like dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is considered Native and Introduced since it has some infra-taxa that are native to L48 and some that are introduced there. Plants that do not occur in the PFA do not have Native Status values in PLANTS, though they may be cultivated or used as ornamentals within the PFA.

Q. What do the distribution maps show?
A. The state and county maps show the distribution of native and naturalized populations only, not planted or horticultural populations. Plants growing in yards, along streets, or planted in other settings are not included unless they have escaped cultivation and are established in the wild and reproducing spontaneously without the aid of humankind.

Q. How are your symbols put together?
A. Each symbol is composed of the first two letters of the genus+first two letters of the species+first letter of the terminal infraspecific name+tiebreaking number (if needed). Genus and family symbols are the first five (genus) or six (family) letters of the name, plus tiebreaking number (if needed). Symbols were first used in the Soil Conservation Service’s National List of Scientific Plant Names (NLSPN), and have been perpetuated in the PLANTS system.

Q. Do you have symbols for unknown plants?
A. Yes. The symbols for unknown plants represent generic categories such as ‘deciduous tree’ or ‘herbaceous vine’ that are useful in survey, monitoring, and inventory work. These symbols and associated descriptive names are widely used by a number of federal agencies.

Q. Do you still have only one common name when many plants have several?
A. PLANTS has a single National Common Name (always found below the scientific name at the top of the PLANTS profile). For some plants, alternative common names appear in the top PLANTS profile box. PLANTS also maintains a single common name for each state; these state common names are available only to NRCS resource managers.

Q. Why does my understanding of the state or county distribution of a particular species not agree with yours?
A. There are several possibilities: 1) Your information is more accurate than ours. If so, please read our distribution data standards and then contact us to update our information.

Q. What are synonyms and accepted names, and how are they portrayed in PLANTS?
A. Accepted names are listed flush on the left margin, and are the currently accepted scientific name for a particular plant. Synonyms, indented below their corresponding accepted names, are names that have been used previously to refer to that plant, but for taxonomic or nomenclatural reasons are no longer preferred. In many cases the currently accepted name may reflect a more appropriate taxonomic placement, for example, the species is more at home in its current genus. Or, it may have been determined that a previously used name was not validly published, and hence may not be used. Also, synonyms often were published after the publication of an accepted name referring to the same species, and according to nomenclatural rules of priority, the older name must be used.

Q. Do listed synonyms retain their legal status?
A. Yes, they do.  Subsequent taxonomic realignments sometimes result in legally-listed noxious, protected, or wetland plants that are synonyms in PLANTS.  The legal status of these plants in not affected by taxonomic position (i.e., whether they are accepted names or synonyms), and they retain their legal status as originally listed.

Q. How are binomials and autonyms listed in synonymy?
A. Autonyms (“self names”) are names such as Swertia albicaulis var. albicaulis which are automatically established from the binomial when a new taxon (e.g., Swertia albicaulis var. columbiana) is described at a rank below species. Autonyms represent the remaining conceptual portion of the binomial when all the other infraspecific taxa at that rank (e.g., Swertia albicaulis var. columbiana) are excluded. When a binomial with all its infraspecific taxa is placed in synonymy, however, some taxonomists assert that the autonym is no longer extant, and the binomial synonym should be used to represent that portion of the species not contained in other infra taxa. Thus, if Swertia albicaulis is transferred to Frasera, Swertia albicaulis var. columbiana becomes a synonym of Frasera albicaulis var. columbiana, whereas Swertia albicaulis becomes the corresponding synonym for Frasera albicaulis var. albicaulis. But at PLANTS we retain all symbols and names, so if we have previously used the autonym we place it in synonymy alongside its forming binomial. Thus in the above example we place both Frasera albicaulis var. albicaulis and Frasera albicaulis in synonymy of Swertia albicaulis.

Q. What are the data fields and values in the PLANTS database?
A. You can view them here.

Q. What taxonomic terms and abbreviations are used at PLANTS?
A. PLANTS uses these terms and abbreviations:

Term or Abbreviation Description
as to type faithful to the type.
auct. auctorum (Latin): of authors. Used to represent the preponderant incorrect usage of a name that has been widely misapplied.
auct. non. auctorum nonnullorum (Latin): of some authors. Used to represent an occasional incorrect usage of a name that has been sometimes misapplied.
auct. plur. auctorum plurimorum (Latin): of most authors. Used to represent the preponderant incorrect usage of a name that has been widely misapplied.
database artifact a duplicate record, superfluous autonym, typographic (data entry) error, or other garbage record.
excl. type excluding the type.
excluded an accepted name, but the plant is no longer thought to occur in the PLANTS Floristic Area.
inc. sed. incertae sedis (Latin): of uncertain placement. Used for names that cannot be placed in the current taxonomic scheme.
ined. ineditus (Latin): unpublished.
ined.? see ined.
nom. conf. nomen confusum (Latin): confused name. Based on heterogenous elements from which it is impossible to select a lectotype.
nom. cons. nomen conservandum (Latin): name conserved under Art. 14 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
nom. dub. nomen dubium (Latin): dubious name. Application of name is uncertain.
nom. illeg. nomen illegitimum (Latin): a validly published name rendered illegitimate, according to Arts. 52-54 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012), by not being in accordance with specified rules (Art. 6.4).
nom. inq. nomen inquirendum (Latin): a name that requires investigation.
nom. inval. nomen invalidum (Latin): name not validly published according to Art. 32 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
nom. nud. nomen nudum (Latin): name published without description or reference to a published description.
nom. rej. nomen rejiciendum (Latin): name rejected under Art. 14 or Art. 56 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
nom. utique rej. nomen utique rejiciendum (Latin): a name rejected under all circumstances, according to Art. 56.1 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012). Neither it, nor names based upon it, should be used.
non (Latin): not (of).
orth. cons. orthographia conservandum (Latin): conserved orthographic variant under Art. 14.11 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
orth. rej. orthographia rejiciendum (Latin): rejected orthographic variant under Art. 14.11 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
orth. var. orthographic variant: an incorrect alternate spelling of a name according to Art. 61 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
p.p. pro parte (Latin): in part. Used to indicate that only part of a taxon is being referred to.
(pro hybr.) pro hybrida (Latin): as a hybrid. Used to indicate that the name of a species was originally published as a hybrid.
(pro sp.) pro speciei (Latin): as a species. Used to indicate that the name of a hybrid was originally published as a species.
(pro nm.) pro nothomorpho (Latin): as a nothomorph. Used to indicate that the name of a hybrid below the rank of species was called a "nothomorph", but now is treated as a variety according to Art. H.12.2 of International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al., 2012).
sensu (Latin): in the sense of. Used in author citations of misapplied names in front of the name of the author misapplying the name.
synonym a not accepted but valid name. Either a taxonomic synonym (heterotypic, having a different type than the accepted name) or a nomenclatural synonym (homotypic, having the same type as the accepted name).
Intellectual Property

Q. How do I cite PLANTS?
A. Please cite the National PLANTS Database as indicated on our PLANTS Citation and Acknowledgements page.

Q. Are your images copyrighted? Am I free to use them?
A. The use of most images at PLANTS requires permission. Conditions of use vary as follows, but acknowledgement is required under all circumstances:

Non-copyrighted images: Use of these public domain PLANTS images is unrestricted (i.e., free for any use) and you do not have to notify the photographer or the PLANTS Database. You must acknowledge the source of the image as shown below no matter how or where you use it.

Copyrighted images: Any use of copyrighted images requires permission of the copyright holder or designated contact person. Please see the Usage Requirements displayed with each picture for the contact information for the copyright holder or designated contact person, and use it to communicate with them directly regarding any use of copyrighted images. Regardless of how you use the image, you must acknowledge the source of the image as shown below.

Acknowledgement: Any use of any PLANTS image requires proper credit to the photographer or illustrator, copyright holder, institution, and the PLANTS Database. Here are two examples of appropriate acknowledgment:

©J.S. Peterson

Robert Mohlenbrock
USDA, NRCS, 1997 - Northeastern Wetlands Flora @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Q. How do I contribute images to the PLANTS database?
A. We and your fellow users would very much appreciate your contribution. Please read about our preferences for submissions.

Q. Can we link to your site or your images?
A. For pages on our website, please do! But to link to individual images on our website you may need permission from the copyright holder or designated contact person, depending on the Usage Requirements for an image.

Browser Recommendations, Configuration, and the Use of "Cookies" at the PLANTS Web Site

Q. Which browser/version should I use to view the PLANTS Web site?
A. This site is best viewed with Internet Explorer version 4.0 or greater, with JavaScript and cookies, style sheets, and frames enabled. Although we haven't tested them, later versions of Opera should work. Older browsers and WebTV may be used to view the site, but expect some functionality and/or formatting to be lost.

Q. How are style sheets used on the PLANTS Web site?
A. We use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format the site consistently with our fonts, font sizes, and colors. For best results your browser must recognize style sheets and be set to accept our style sheet in particular. This will normally be the case if you are using Internet Explorer. The PLANTS site may be viewed without style sheets enabled or with your own style sheets, but there will be some font, color, and spacing differences.

Q. How is scripting used on the PLANTS Web site?
A. The PLANTS Web site uses JavaScript for greater versatility. For example, we use it for some form validation, to display help screens, and to maintain your name searches from page to page. The site will still be useable if scripting is turned off, but expect some decreased functionality.

Q. Should my browser be configured to use scripting?
A. Our recommended browser is normally configured to use scripting when it is installed, and this is required for full performance of PLANTS. However, you may have set your security settings or firewall software to disable scripting. For example, in Microsoft Internet Explorer, setting your security level to "High" (Tools> Internet Options…> Security) will disable scripting. Please refer to your browser or firewall documentation for more information.

Q. What type of "cookies" are used on the PLANTS Web site?
A. We use only "session" cookies on the PLANTS Web site. These cookies are temporary files that are used to keep track of information as you move from page to page while you're at PLANTS. They cease to exist when you close your browser and cannot ever be shared outside of PLANTS. We do not use "persistent" cookies at PLANTS. Persistent cookies store information on your computer for some defined time period and remain on your computer even when you close your browser.

Q. What are cookies used for on the PLANTS Web site?
A. We use cookies on the PLANTS Name Search. On the PLANTS Name Search at the top left of every page, the name type and the name you enter are stored as cookies. This allows you to move between the different sections of PLANTS and see the last name you entered in the Name Search at the top of every page.

Q. What happens if I disable cookies or reject cookies at the PLANTS Web site?
A. The Name Search will revert to its default blank state as you move between different sections of the PLANTS Web site, but this should not impair your use of the site. Remember that JavaScript must be enabled in order to use cookies. See "Should my browser be configured to use scripting?" above for more information.

Q. How do I set my browser to accept or decline cookies?
A. That depends on your browser, browser version, and perhaps your firewall software. In Internet Explorer see Tools> Internet Options…> and click on the Security tab. We recommend you check the documentation for your browser and firewall software, and consult with your system administrator if you have one.

Adding a Direct Link to PLANTS From Another Web Site

Q. How can I directly link to the PLANTS database from my Web site and display a PLANTS Profile Page?
A. General instructions for accessing a Plant Profile Page are outlined below. We ask that you retain the PLANTS navigation frameset and clearly specify that your link is going to the USDA PLANTS Database.

1. A direct query to display a Plant Profile assumes that a valid PLANTS Symbol is included in the URL. The general form is (with no breaks):

where “XXXXX” is a valid symbol in upper case. The symbol must be upper case! For example, to display a profile page using the symbol AMAR2 use the following URL:

2. It is also possible to search the PLANTS database. If more than one plant meets your search criteria, a list of these plants is displayed (if only one plant meets your search criteria, a single PLANTS Profile appears). Individual PLANTS Profiles can be displayed by clicking on the plant links in this list. The type of search and the search text is included as part of the URL. The general form is (with no breaks):

where searchtype =

  • sciname” for a scientific name search
  • comname” for a common name search
  • symbol” for a search on symbol

and searchtext = the text that you wish to search for.

Note that the system finds both complete and partial matches to your search text. Thus a common name search on "blue" would return bluemink, Arizona bluestar, big bluestem, and many others. The following example searches the PLANTS database for any common name containing "blue":

Please contact us if you establish a direct link to PLANTS so that we can try to keep you up to date if the structure of PLANTS changes. Also contact us if you need further help in accessing the PLANTS database from another Web site.