Using the Internet wisely to search for plants!

Discussion in 'Plants: Identification' started by photopro, Jun 25, 2007.

  1. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Most of you don't know it but every time you type a search term into a search engine there are companies who are taking note of every word you type! Those companies make that information available to webmasters in order to allow them to make their websites more search friendly. But you should be aware, the search engine does not understand your question! It does not translate a question, it is looking for individual words. Only words! And believe me, people try to "talk" to their computer which only confuses their search! We can't tell who asked the question, but I can tell where they were logged onto the computer from in the world including city, state, and country.

    I maintain a tropical plant website. As a result I have access to the search terms that bring people to my website. And people ask "the darndest" things! I see long winded questions that only send the search engine on a wild search! No wonder those people rarely find what they are seeking!

    Those questions, especially full sentences, only produce chaos. Here's an example of a question someone in the world typed into Google today: "names of rare tropical plants found in rain forests all over the world". The search engine begins looking for anything with the word "names", "tropical", "plants", "found", "rain", forests", "over", and "world". It does not look for word relationships. It just might get lucky and find that very sentence somewhere on the internet, but that is highly unlikely! If you type such a question into a search engine you'll just get back mostly gibberish! It is not likely you'll find what you were attempting to find. Be specific!

    If you are looking for a plant use the plant's name if at all possible. Don;t use vague terms like "a plant with leaves"! And I don't mean use common name. Try to find the scientific name if at all possible, it makes a difference. But if you don't know the scientific name then try the common name as a last resort. And don't forget to look at the photo section which can be found at the top of most search engines. You have a better chance of finding the plant with a photo if you only know the common name since many plants have the same common name! But remember, many plants have several common names!

    And once you find a website that may have the answer to your question don't click out of the site if the first page does not contain the answer you are seeking! If you are looking for information regarding impatiens find a good site on impatiens and then search it!! I have many people land on my site by using a bad search term. Sometimes they are looking for travel information but the question is worded so badly they end up on a plant site, but only for a few second! Sometimes I can figure out what they were actually seeking and the answer was right there in front of them. They just needed to search my site a bit more to find it! In the case of my website I have a list of species which can be accessed from any page on the site! Just click on it and scan through! I don't like common names, but I list them! Many plant webmasters do the same thing. I have people search for "a philodendron with red leaves". Well, there is no such thing I'm aware of, but there are several with red petioles. Chances are that was what they were actually seeking! They just didn't look down the list and check the photos.

    If you don't find what you are seeking on the first search don't just type in the same term in again and again and again! You'll get the same results! Again and again and again! Modify it! I've had people type the same term into a search engine four or five times and they always land on the same page! The crazy part is the plant they were likely seeking was only a page or two away! You just have to look.

    By the way, many people don't know there may be close to 2,000,000 tropical species in the world! (some sources say there are only 500,000). Many not yet identified to science. If you do a search for "tropical plant" the chances are less than 1 in 2,000,000 you'll find the one you are seeking! Be specific. Dig! Are you looking for a Philodendron, an Anthurium, a fern, an Alocasia? What type of plant are you trying to find! What country is it from? What do you already know about it? Tell the computer, but just be brief! You are not talking to a person with a brain.

    And one last word. You've already found one of the best plant sites on the internet: UBC! I have contributed to quite a few but have abandoned just about all the rest in favor of this one. This site is maintained by botanically trained people who often step in and redirect the conversation if they feel it is off track. And there are a lot of knowledgeable plant people who answer questions on UBC. Many of the other plant boards are more interested in your monthyly fee than giving you good answers. Some charge for the right to post just about anything and they don't scrutinize much of anything! I've found tons of really bad information on many of those sites and no one seems to care. I've sent the owners the correct information and it just gets ignored! One even threated to sue me because I told them their information was wrong! And they did that after I forwarded an email from one of America's top botanists proving what I was saying. I've seen non-existent "scientific names" at the top of pages. And I've found lots of information that is purely erroneous! You're free to use any website you wish, but in my book, you've already found the best one. You're on it right now!

    So if you are searching for a plant on the internet use as few words as possible in your search term. Don't use sentences! And think about what you're about to ask the search engine. Does it really make sense to a computer? That computer has tons of "chips" but it is not a brain. There is not a person on the other end! It is only looking for words! So give it words that will lead to what you are seeking! But sometimes it will get you close enough to the answer you are seeking anyway! It is right in front of you. You just have to look a tiny bit deeper than the first webpage.

    And just as I posted this someone in the world typed in "species of elephant ear plants". I'd bet the computer sent them on a wild goosechase on that one! First, "elephant ear" means nothing. Some Alocasia species are called elephant ears, some Xanthosoma sp. are called elephant ears, some Philodendron sp. are called elephant ears! That person found a Xanthasoma on my website but stayed less than 5 seconds. I'll bet they are still looking for a "list" of names somewhere!
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2007
  2. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Good comments!
    Actually, it does . . . this:
    http://www1.istockphoto.com/file_th...ockphoto_766045_african_elephant_close_up.jpg
    ;-)

    Another very useful tip for searching for info on a particular plant - if you know where that plant comes from, enter plantname site:.countrycode in the search engine (works with google). This directs you to websites where the plant is native, where expertise with it can be expected to be better. Thus if you want to find out about e.g. the South African tree Kigelia africana, enter "Kigelia africana" site:.za in the search box.
     
  3. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Great response! I especially enjoyed the site showing what an elephant ear looks like!I guess I'm on a bit of a crusade, but I have disliked the use of common names for a long time. Everyone who makes one up just confuses the world of plant collectors more. As tough as it may seem, learning scientific names is a superior way to learn about your collection. And generally, it is not difficult!

    I get an enormous kick out of seeing what search terms people use to try to find something that often is simple to locate. Those long winded questions typed into the search engine produce little but confusion! And sometimes I see some doozies!
     
  4. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    The odd thing is the amazing number of people who say they can't possibly cope with scientific names, yet their 9 year old kids can rattle off dinosaur names like Carcharodontosaurus or Eustreptospondylus or Metriacanthosaurus in a shot.
     
  5. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Amen to that! My 7 year old grand daughter can rattle off half the names of species in my atrium! You just have to decide you want to learn something new!
     
  6. Vbort44

    Vbort44 Active Member

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    You have to admit that common names do serve their purpose though. They are very good for a beginner or when trying to remember a vast array of species in a small area. Also, who wants to say "Trifolium repens is so pretty" to a hot new date?!?!?? You just have to remember not to make common names a habit during the identification process. Like I've always said "Use common names for common people".
     
  7. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    I am making a really determined effort to teach myself more scientific names but to do that I often need to use the common name first to get access to the correct name.. Even my books that I use give both lists as indexes.

    This may be of interest
    http://www.monash.com/spidap4.html

    Liz
     
  8. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Liz, your link is marvelous! I just wish more people would find and use the information!

    Please don't think I'm trying to stomp on people who like to use common names. I use them sometimes as well, but I prefer to learn the scientific name. Here's why:

    When someone only has the common name they know little about how the plant grows, where it originated, the type of soil conditions it prefers, if it climbs trees, likes to grow in the sun, prefers shade or anything else! Common names don't tell you that, scientific names do!

    I have a very large Anthurium regale. That plant has no common name. I acquired the first specimen (I now have two) about 1 1/2 years ago. It was a baby. Rather than just "obey" the "commands" on some of the other plant boards I researched the species in several scientific books. The "experts" on the other boards were saying the plant was from Ecuador, liked to grow in dark conditions, needed sparse water, would do fine in high temperatures, and would do great on a window sill. Most of them were praising the size of their plants at 18 inches.

    In my research I found out it is from Peru and has never grown, as far as any scientist knows, in Ecuador. It loves semi-bright conditions, extremely high humidity, frequent rain (water), and temps around 62 to 80 degrees. I set out in my tropical atrium to duplicate those conditions. In 1 1/2 years it has grown two 30 inch leaves and produced a spathe and spadix. But that's nothing! It is capable of growing a 72 inch leaf and believe me I'm trying to grow one!

    I have another anthurium that I was told simply could not be grown in captive growth. Supposedly it was impossible. I researched it thoroughly. In 6 months it has grown three nice new leaves and is now putting on a fourth. All I did was research the plant and try to duplicate the natural conditions. I could not have done that without knowing the scientific name and finding out where and how it grows!

    But if you have to use the common name to find the scientific name, go for it. Just try to learn the scientific name as well. And be sure and verify the common name you find is actually the plant you are growing. Tons of common names are used by totally different plants!

    But to get back to the point of this thread, people should use the recommendations in your link! They will help you find what you are really trying to find!
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2007
  9. everlasting

    everlasting Active Member

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    Thank you very much for the tips, photopro! I do agree that common names do confuse especially when you live in another country where that plant is not common. When I learned the scientific names of some of our plants, I was surprised that some of them sound like the common names of those plants. There are also so many different lucky plants and money plants that were sold here depending on the craze and I interchanged their names at times..
     
  10. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    It always goes back to why technical (scientific names) were developed in the first place. If "the" (a single, universal) common name were all there was then that would be adequate. There isn't for many plants, and never will be as lay people aren't thinking about botany when using plants in their everyday lives.
     
  11. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Although I personally find the use of common names of little value, I fear the reason I started this thread has been lost to the sub topic. When I began, I was hoping to get more feedback from people relating to using search terms wisely to find the plant information anyone is seeking. Here's a case in point.

    Today, someone somewhere (actually, I know the city) typed the search term "anthurium why" into a search engine several times. I know that because their search took them to my website several times. They got the same responses each time I'm sure! They landed on the exact same page on my website twice. And the reason the search engine took them there, twice, was I had the words "anthurium" and "why" in two separate sentences in two different paragraphs in one article. They stayed 3 seconds each time! Obviously, my article didn't answer their vague question, or so they thought!

    That term is so difficult to understand even a human brain has trouble understanding what the person was trying to learn! If the computer could have shot back a personal response I'd bet it would have wanted to say "why what"? But of course the computer is not really a brain! It just looks for the words "anthurium" and "why"! It thinks literally, not necessarily logically (I know, programers try to make them think with some logic)! And that search term was a little less than logical!

    Were they wanting to know why people collect anthuriums? Were they trying to learn why anthuriums are a tropical genus? Why the leaf shapes of anthuriums are so varied? Why do people kill so many of them without good knowledge of how to grow one? What were they wanting to know? They obviously were looking for some bit of information since they typed the same exact term into the search engine more than once! But what? They had to be looking for something because my page did not show up until page 5 of their search!

    My original point was you must give the search engine specific enough information it can attempt to figure out what you are seeking but not so much as to confuse it! The search engine is going to try to find some paragraph somewhere on the net with all the words you type in, but not necessarily together! And if you ask a question it surely does not understand your thought process!

    When you are trying to find information on a plant, help the computer. As Spock used to say, be logical! Don't just type the random thoughts that run through all of our minds!

    Now, if you just happen to be the person who asked "anthurium why? would you please let us know what you were hoping to find? Maybe one of us can explain it to you!
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2007
  12. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    The book GOOGLE HACKS says to start big in scope of subject and narrow it down in the search string, from left to right.
     
  13. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Interesting approach. You should see some the really big search terms people type into the system! I wonder if they ever narrow anything down or just add more.
     
  14. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Rare for me to use a search string of more than 3 words. The one exception is looking for particular phrases, if you're looking for e.g. the full wording of a quotation you can remember the first bit of.

    And if you have a website of your own, from time to time stick a ten word phrase from it into google, "in quote marks". If you get any hits other than your own site, you know where to send the lawyers on a breach of copyright claim . . .
     
  15. levilyla

    levilyla Active Member

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    Very good information. Thank you for posting. I am afraid I am guilty of these things! I will have to remember that my computer does not have a brain.
     
  16. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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  17. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Good one as always Michael!

    Just as a point of interest, I tried an experiment today to use the internet to track down plants by using only the common name. In far too many cases I did not find the actual plant I was seeking! I just found some other plant with the same common name.

    Why is that important? Well, in the case of a Philodendron often sold as the Panda Plant, I got returns mostly for plants that are succulents. If you attempt to use the advice provided and grow that Philodendron as you would a succulent it will likely die! The Philodendron and the succulent have no relationship. One grows in a dry climate, the other in a damp climate.

    I got the same results in several attempts. So it can be quite dangerous to simply use a common name and believe what you read is applicable to the plant you are growing! It could easily cost you your specimen.
     
  18. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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  19. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Interesting. But it proves the point!
     
  20. levilyla

    levilyla Active Member

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    how about this one...looking up Chelone glabra (turtlehead)
     
  21. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Geochelone is more interesting . ..
    ;-)
     
  22. Ginger Blue

    Ginger Blue Active Member

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    I think that using quotes is one of the most important and underused tactics in searching. This keeps it from returning hits that merely contain the words on the page rather than those words in connection with each other.
     
  23. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    True. That does help. But people have to learn not to treat the computer like a personal "professor" that understands all the nuances of the questions they ask. Be brief and be specific!

    Just today someone typed this question into Google, "A list of scientific names of plant species found in South American rain forests". Try it and see what you get. In quotes you'll get nothing. Without quotes you'll get a lot of responses but no "list". You'll find botanical gardens. But no list. Instead, those sites will ask you for the very scientific names this person was seeking!

    I know this because that very question appeared on my report just today! I'd be willing to bet that person is still searching for their "list" and simply cannot understand why they never found one! Besides, if they found one it would have at least 500,000 names.
     
  24. levilyla

    levilyla Active Member

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    So...if you do not know the botanical name (only the common one) how would you ask this question of google?
     
  25. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    In my case, I have a list of sites that can, through photo ID, give me at least a lead to what it likely may be. I've published my list on the net and you'll find it at the end of this post.

    I spend time almost every single day researching plants. Fortunately, I have a good library as well and that is where I go first. I look through the books at photos trying to find anything similar. Once I figure out the genus that makes finding the species much easier. But not always! I have 11 plants on my desktop right now I can't fully identify!

    Since you are already using UBC, I'd strongly recommend using this source along with your camera. I'm amazed sometimes at how quickly people come up with accurate identifications on this board. I've tried others, and on most get a lot of opinions", but little fact. There is one site that comes up in the top almost every time I do a search and I have found more bad information on that site that I can recall!

    But since I post most of the work I do on a website, I also compare the name I sometimes get on this board to several scientific sources to verify the accuracy. I deal in tropical aroids primarily (Philodendron, Anthurium, Alocasia and other species). I do my best to make sure my identifications are verified before I post them. I have also been fortunate to develop a network of well known botanists who offer assistance and verify my information. As a result, my "little" website has grown to the point where it receives 800 to 1000 hits daily from people who are trying to figure out what some tropical plant might be. If you are dealing with a tropical species I invite people to send me a photo at the address on my website. I learn a great deal by trying to figure out the name of some plant that has stumped someone else. But if you are seeking a non-tropical, I'm a dummy!

    But as for a guaranteed way to word the question on Google (or any other search engine), I haven't figured one out yet! I wish I could. But I do often use the genus name and then look at all the photos that pop up at the top of the page. Even then I verify again. There is a lot of bad information on the internet. Fortunately, on UBC, when you are wrong someone who knows more than you will almost certainly tell you.

    Here's the link to my reference page if you want to give it a try.

    http://www.exoticrainforest.com/linksraretropicalplantcollectors.html
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2007

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