October 25, 2022

Photographing asters for identification

This is a summation of the photos needed for photographing an aster plant for the best identification. The information is from a post on the Field Botanists of Ontario Facebook Group written by iNaturalist wdvanhem.

  1. The whole plant and a bit of surrounding environment
  2. The entire inflorescence (the blooming area)
  3. Close-up of a group of the flower heads showing ray length and color, disk color, etc.
  4. Close-up of involucres showing phyllaries, bracts, etc. (THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE FOR ASTER ID)
  5. Cauline (stem) leaf with stalk, if it has one, and the node where the leaf attaches to the stem
  6. Close-up of upper (adaxial) and lower (abaxial) leaf surfaces
  7. Close-up of the stem showing color, hairiness (or hairlessness), smoothness or grooved features, etc.
  8. Base of the plant to show basal leaves (if any, as sometimes after an aster is flowering, these have died, but the photo is good regardless)

Dropping this here for reference along with a link to an observation by wdvanhem that has all of these photos but the first. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/60836960


Posted on October 25, 2022 01:07 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 4 comments | Leave a comment

October 08, 2022

Commons Licenses, iNaturalist, and the Wikipedia world

I edit and sometimes write from scratch Wikipedia articles, usually focusing on those in my favorite genus, Symphyotrichum. iNaturalist often imports Wikipedia articles for the About tab of a taxon page. I find it quite helpful to be able to see a summary of a species rather than having to go to a more formal definition, such as from a flora.

I began editing Wikipedia Symphyotrichum articles in 2020 when I wanted to learn more about species I was finding during my excursions (in my own yard). My favorites were those in the Asteraceae family, and I found the iNaturalist About sections for some of the plants I was seeking wanting. iNaturalist imports from Wikipedia articles. I found them wanting as well. The point of Wikipedia is education. Anybody can edit Wikipedia, with or without an account. Wikipedia has a philosophy of "BE BOLD". Don't wait for someone else to add that fact or description, do it yourself! You can't break Wikipedia. Make sure to use a reliable source and to cite that source (or sources) in the prose you write. And keep in mind, you or someone else can and will come along and improve what you have started to help to fulfill the educational purpose. Again, you can't break Wikipedia!

Wikipedia articles often begin as stubs. Stub class articles for the Symphyotrichum genus are many and include Symphyotrichum pygmaeum and Symphyotrichum ciliatum. The next level of articles are those classified as Start. Following that are C, B, A, Good Article (GA), and Featured Article (FA). The equivalent of FA for a list article is Featured List (FL). An example of a C class article is Symphyotrichum potosinum, a species native to Mexico and the U.S. state of Arizona. There are policies and guidelines, people who offer to help or mentor, places to ask questions, and review processes for GA, FA, and FL classifications.

The current best articles on Wikipedia for this genus are Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster, a Good Article), Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (calico aster, a Featured Article), and List of Symphyotrichum species (a Featured List).

To make a good or even excellent article on a genus or species, photos showing the various morphological features of a plant are necessary. Within an article, the prose needs to explain the morphology, and images should not be decorative but instead should enhance the prose. In order to be able to use a photo or image in a Wikipedia article, it must have an appropriate license for sharing. I have described Creative Commons licenses, followed by Wikimedia Commons (the "media holding" place for Wikipedia) licensing requirements, and finally how to change licenses of iNat observations and photos.

Creative Commons licenses were created 20 years ago to provide for a consistent and computer-readable way for people to share their work electronically or non-electronically with or without certain restrictions. The usual copyright of any work is that nobody can use or share a work that they did not create without express written permission from the owner of the license (generally the creator of the work, the publisher of a book, etc.). For example, unless otherwise noted, a book is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any fashion. If the book has a Creative Commons license, it means the creator of the work is allowing it to be shared under either no restrictions, called a CC0 license (basically the equivalent of a work that is in the public domain), or with limited restrictions.

The four options for these limited restrictions using a Creative Commons license are

  1. Noncommercial
  2. No derivatives (no changes, including cropping, adding words to an image, combining it with other images or text into another image, etc.)
  3. Attribution (to the author/creator)
  4. Share alike (use it with the same license the creator gave it)

These are given in shortcut form as NC, ND, BY, and SA, respectively. They can be combined in any fashion. There are also standard symbols in non-word form that represent these licenses. If you want to get into a bit more of the details of Creative Commons licenses, you can go to this link: https://creativecommons.org/about/cclicenses/

iNaturalist allows all licenses that I've mentioned, including full copyright, and likely some others that I haven't mentioned. The default (automatic) license for our iNat observations and the images we attach to the observations is set by iNat to be CC-BY-NC, with the "CC" meaning Creative Commons, "BY" meaning attribution, and "NC" meaning noncommercial usage only.

Wikimedia Commons accepted licenses Wikimedia Commons (commons.wikimedia.org) is the place provided by the Wikimedia Foundation to store media, such as images, videos, and sound files, which in general are of value to education of the public. The images are especially valuable for Wikipedia articles. From the Wikimedia Licensing page, "Wikimedia Commons only accepts free content, that is, images and other media files that are not subject to copyright restrictions which would prevent them being used by anyone, anytime, for any purpose. The use may however be restricted by issues not related to copyright...." That last sentence means that media with a Creative Commons license that is uploaded to Wikimedia Commons can have qualifiers of "share alike" and "attribution". Those are not restricting actual usage, only requiring that when the media is used, it is used with the same license or the specification that anyone using it must say who created it. For a much more detailed explanation with a bonus of an easy to follow diagram, see this link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing

Changing observation licenses on iNaturalist Should you wish to, there are several places that a license can be set on iNaturalist, including in user account settings for the automatic setting of your uploaded observations and media. Here is an observation that I uploaded recently: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/137799160. If you scroll to below the observation but above the data quality assessment, assuming you are using a web browser (I'm not sure what it looks like in the apps, and it's probably easier to do this on a browser), you will see

Copyright Info
Observation © Elizabeth Ballard · some rights reserved
(small image representing the CC-BY-SA license)

This means that I allow anyone to share anything about this observation anywhere as long as they a) say that I did it, and b) share the information with the CC-BY-SA license.

At the top right of an observation of your own is an "Edit" button. If you go into one of your observations, you will see it, and attached to it is a little triangle that points downward. If you click on that downward triangle, you will be given four options, in this order:

Edit License

In order to change the license of an observation, choose "Edit License". This pops up a nice window that explains the licenses. At the bottom of that window, there are also two check boxes. The first one is "Make this your default observation license". The second reads "Update Past observations". These only apply if you have decided to change license settings for all of your observations.

Note that changing the license on an existing observation does not change the licenses of the images attached to it.

Changing image licenses on iNaturalist Individual media on an observation can also have a license. If you view an observation image's information by clicking on the image, then clicking "i" which is at the bottom of the image, it will take you to a page that has information about that image. Once you get to that page, to the right of the photo, you will see something like this:

© (your name or username)
(your license's small image) some rights reserved Edit License

You won't see "Edit License" on any observation that is not yours. This is where you would edit an individual image license. If you click on the word "Edit License", it will pop up a similar window to the one you saw when editing the license of an observation. At the bottom on this window, there are also two optional check boxes that read "Make this your default photo license" and "Update Past photos". These only apply if you have decided to change license settings for all of your photos.

Setting your default licenses on iNaturalist There is a way in Account Settings to change your default licenses on iNaturalist rather than going through an observation or a photo. To get to these settings, in a browser, move your mouse pointer to your small circle iNat profile image (or just the small circle if you have not selected an image) in the upper right hand corner of the browser window. A menu will pop up with the following options, in this order:

Edit Observations

Account Settings

Sign Out

Choose "Account Settings". Then choose "Content & Display" which is in the list to your left. Scroll down on the screen to "Licensing". There are three options:

Default observation license
Default photo license
Default sound license

Changing a photo license for use on Wikipedia In order to allow some photos to be used on Wikipedia, if it is not already set to one of the Wikimedia Commons allowed licenses, you would need to change the observation license to CC0, CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA, then change the licenses of the photos for usage on Wikimedia Commons to one of those licenses. I personally like the CC-BY-SA license, but I've seen people on iNat use any option. Also note that if you wish to create a Wikimedia Commons account, you could upload your own images for use. Wikimedia also allow the use of Flickr images with acceptable licenses. The amazing main image of the calico aster article came from Flickr.

I realized this is long and detailed, but I hope it helps anyone who has wondered about those cryptic licensing symbols, as well as the source and creation of Wikipedia articles. Please let me know if I can explain anything better.

Elizabeth Ballard

Posted on October 08, 2022 08:09 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 08, 2022

Wikipedia's Did You Know on 8 January 2022

See the main page from a browser (not the app), and you will find the following as the lead DYK with a high-quality photo of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.

"Did you know ... that the Chippewa have smoked the root of the New England aster in pipes to attract game?"

Link to article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphyotrichum_novae-angliae


Posted on January 08, 2022 02:26 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Symphyotrichum subulatum "complex"

This is something I wrote on an observation from San Antonio at this link: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/100266130. It probably can apply to anywhere, with modification.

There are (or were) five varieties of S. subulatum (see descriptions at http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=250049273). POWO has recently (in the last few months) synonymized S. subulatum var. ligulatum to S. divaricatum and S. subulatum var. parviflorum to S. expansum (the latter based on 2018 Catalogue of Life circumscription). The December 2021 Catalogue of Life release now synonymizes S. expansum to S. parviforum, which takes nomenclatural precidence because of the timeline in which the basionyms were described. I expect POWO will update to that eventually (probably sometime this year).

Most iNat observations of the varieties of S. subulatum are only at the species level. However, the varieties are quite different in characteristics, and most of their ranges do not overlap. These are likely two of the reasons for the change in acceptance of some (and probably later more) of the varieties back to the species level as proposed by Guy L. Nesom in the 1990s. So, an ID of S. subulatum at the species level can somewhat confidently be honed down to varietal level.

In Texas, the most common at the former varietal level is S. subulatum var. ligulatum (now S. divaricatum), followed by S. s. var. parviflorum (now S. expansum or S. parviforum, depending on the circumscription as I discussed above). The autonym is S. s. var. subulatum, or the actual equivalent of the species, and the USDA PLANTS database shows that it only has a presence in Texas in Chambers and Orange counties. The other two varieties, S. s. var. squamatum (circumstribed to by some as S. squamatum) and S. s. var. elongatum (circumscribed to by some as S. bahamense) are not native to Texas and have a very different native range. However, S. s. var. squamatum, although a native South American species, does have an introduced presence in a few southern US states, including Texas, according to POWO and the USDA PLANTS database. In Texas, var. ligulatum (now S. divaricatum) and var. parviflorum (now S. expansum or S. parviforum) have mostly non-overlapping ranges, with the latter solely in the southwestern-most counties. In San Antonio, only S. divaricatum is present according to USDA PLANTS database (unless of course the introduced S. s. var. squamatum is there, but there is no data available on the county-level for the introduced, or I haven’t found it yet).

What I am working on is trying to sort out the species-level S. subulatum identifications into the appropriate varieties, or new species names where relevant. This has to be done manually rather than with an automatic taxon name swap because, as I said, most of the observations are at the species rather than varietal level.

Regarding characteristics, these are also quite different among the varieties. From the FNA link I gave above (including drilling in to the varieties), here are a few of the differences as applied to the observation I linked to, above (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/100266130).

S. subulatum var. subulatum has 16-30 ray florets in 2 series that are white and that dry white or lavender in 0-1 outward-curling coils. Characteristics do not match the observation. Add to it the lack of presence in the area, and I ruled this out.

S. subulatum var. squamatum (S. squamatum), 21-28(-38) ray florets in 2-(3) series, white, drying white or lavender with INWARD curls but rarely coiling. Introduced in Texas. Characteristics do not match the observation. I ruled this out.

S. subulatum var. elongatum (S. bahamense), 30-54 ray florets in 2-3 series, pink to lavender and drying in 2-3-(4) outward-curling coils. Characteristics do not match the observation. Far southeastern US species including the Caribbean. No recorded presence in Texas. I ruled this out.

S. subulatum var. parviflorum (S. expansum, S. parviflorum), (23–)27–37(–42) ray florets in (1–)2 series that are usually white, sometimes pink, and dry in 1–2 outward-curling coils. Characteristics do not match the observation. Presence in Texas is southwestern. I ruled this out.

This left S. subulatum var. ligulatum (S. divaricatum), which has 17–30(–45) ray florets in one series, lavender to blue, and that dry in 3–5 coils that roll under. Present in Texas is widespread, including in San Antonio area. Description matches the observation. I selected this which, as you see, is now S. divaricatum.

Just to add that one of the most important (or two, rather) characteristics of any species in the family Asteraceae are the involucre and its phyllaries. I did not differentiate here, but there is a difference among these five. I have made a spreadsheet of the information from FNA that lists, in columnar form, the sames and differents among them. If you wish to have a copy, please message me your email address.

Posted on January 08, 2022 01:45 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2022

Today's Featured Article on Wikipedia

Today's Featured Article on Wikipedia is Symphyotrichum lateriflorum. It's kind of a big deal. :)


Or just go to https://en.wikipedia.org to find it on the main page if today is 5 January 2022.

Posted on January 05, 2022 05:07 AM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 04, 2022

Symphyotrichum questions or answers, part 1

I've been on an ID binge recently (some people watch Netflix all day... some people are out in the field... some people work…). I am learning, and likely always will be learning, the Symphyotrichum genus. Caveat is that I am not a botanist, never will be, and my field work is very limited. But I love this genus with most of my heart and soul. Crazy, I know.

I discovered it in my yard, beginning my self-taught non-career of this genus there. Interest in botany began perhaps in the mountains of North Carolina some decades ago... back in the days when I could hike to the top of Grandfather Mountain, or even better, hike ten miles one way to a very remote campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unfortunately, it was that twenty-mile round trip camping experience that may have begun the downward spiral with my spine. It was also that trip where I was sitting on the log (the sit that probably herniated the L3–L4 disk causing, in part, my disability today), looked up, and there were 6–9 adorable little screech owls staring down at me. If only back then I had a good, affordable, easy-to-use camera that I carried in my pocket. At least I still have the memory.

Back to the present and to the topic at hand. IDs of the Symphyotrichum genus.

Summer 2020. I discovered iNat. I don't remember how. Maybe I posted a photo of a plant or insect on Facebook and someone linked to it in a comment. I literally have no idea now. Anyway, suddenly my nearly non-existent "field work" opened up from the yard to the world. Well, sort of. This is not field work. It is not the same as handling live specimens of plants. It is not sitting under bright lights with magnifying glasses and microscopes. It is different from visiting herbaria. But at its best, there are excellent photos with IDs by other naturalists who are experts with that particular organism, its commonality in the area, etc. And you people do most of my field work for me. Thank you. There is a place for everyone here.

iNat. Summer 2020, I uploaded a photograph of some leaves (leaves!) growing in my yard (prior to mowing). Somehow, iNat identified them as calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum). Eventually, I discovered it was absolutely a correct ID. So I looked at the About page of the species on iNat which is usually the same as what is in Wikipedia, but it was only a few lines long and uninformative.

Then came floras, specifically Flora of North America North of Mexico. What kind of English are they written in? Botanists have their own language, and boy did I feel stupid. I got fixated on trying to understand terms such as “panicle” and “array” and “inflorescence”. iNat-ers helped on the Forum. And at some point, when I actually did realize I was learning a new language (botanical Latin with an English twist), I stopped trying to understand the terms by using synonyms or adjectives and, instead, just took them at face value. It was also good to realize that they sometimes, or often, serve multiple functions: an “inflorescence” is the group of flowers, and also the groups of flowers within the group of flowers, and also the tiny little group of flowers in the aster flower head. But for the most part, it’s the group of flowers.

Back to the Wikipedia article. I had created and edited on Wikipedia a little bit over the years. Everyone has their own mode of learning. I started my mode in childhood, but it needed rocket science improvements in college. My mode is reading. It starts with reading and always has. If I really want to learn, I then take notes, followed by more writing, regurgitating, reading again, explaining… questioning myself, correcting myself. Okay, yes, I learn maybe a harder way, but it sticks. At least for awhile. So I enhanced the Wikipedia article on Symphyotrichum lateriflorum and became one of the thousands of people we know as “Wikipedia”. "Wikipedia needs an article on this." Okay, start one! "The article on this topic is wrong." Okay, fix it! Absolutely make sure you use reliable sources and cite the facts or your information will be challenged or removed, though. It's in the Wikipedia Manual of Style.

So, while writing that article, then branching out to a few others (pun intended), I learned, and provided a bit of a service, I suppose. If anything, I will almost always be able to identify calico aster, and perhaps iNat knows it even better.

End of part one. Why do I always do this? There was only supposed to be a part 1, and this ain't it.


Posted on January 04, 2022 03:10 AM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2021

Those White American Asters - is it Calico or Bushy or Ontario or Hairy or just plain Small?

I wish I had the answers! Small white Symphyotrichum species. Here's maybe some of what I know.

For the observer/photographer: see this post.

Remember the leaves. Remember the backs of the leaves. Oh please, friends, please remember the leaves. Won't you please think of the backs of the leaves?

Remember the involucres. Those are the backs of the flower heads and are made up of the phyllaries. Phyllaries look like little green fish scales. The involucres hold the flower together. And they with phyllaries are one of the main ways, or perhaps the main way, you (and the identifier) can tell which species it is (besides the leaves... did I mention the backs of the leaves?). If you could only take one photo of an Astereae species, it should be of the back of the flower head showing those phyllaries.

Get close and focused enough (coming from someone whose hands shake) for a good look at the disks. That's the middle part of the flower head (you knew that). Those and the involucres and backs of the leaves tell so much in this genus, the entire tribe actually.

If the computer imaging says it's Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, it probably is, but (no data here) it could also be one of those other (ten thousand) white Astereae (in other genera as well) that have disks that turn from cream or yellow to pink or magenta. For white asters, what I've seen is that the first suggestion by iNat is the genus. A species is nearly always the second suggestion. Identification to genus isn't a bad thing, and without phyllaries and leaves, it may be the best that can be done.

I know that the Description section of the Wikipedia article for Symphyotrichum lateriflorum is pretty comprehensive, with photos. I know that the Description section of the Wikipedia article for Symphyotrichum ontarionis is not as comprehensive (yet), but does have at least some information to help with ID, and has a few good pictures that can help.

I know that it is quite difficult to find information on (and observations of!) Symphyotrichum racemosum, but it has a lot of tiny leaves (don't use that as your sole ID criteria, I just like them). I know that Symphyotrichum dumosum has lots and lots of bracts. And they're pretty cool.

I know that iNat says that the most common misidentification with S. lateriflorum (calico aster) is S. cordifolium, common blue wood aster, which I think is odd (not because it's wrong, but because they are actually very different but can look somewhat alike in photographs).

I know that if your disk florets are open with protruding stamens but are not spreading, and your disks have multiple colors (yellow, pink, magenta), then it's likely not calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) even though the computer ID will probably say it is. It's likely S. urophyllum, S. drummondii, S. cordifolium, or some such thing. You know what would help there? Leaves. Did I mention leaves? Did I mention the backs of the leaves? Phyllaries.

What else? Oh, so much more that I'm sure people much smarter than me could add in the comments.

The biggest thing is that white asters are hard. But (in my opinion) they are also the best. They are a challenge, and if you live in an area where there are many species of white Astereae (regardless of the genus), you have quite the opportunity to learn and teach us! I know it's January. And I know they won't be blooming until late July at the earliest, but there are thousands of observations to view, and maybe a few of them could use IDs.

Oh, and dang, I miss summer.

Thanks for reading this gibberish.

Posted on January 24, 2021 10:50 AM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 35 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 16, 2021

Observing American Asters

They are so pretty. Asters. Symphyotrichum. My favorite flowers. As a friend said: "The only genus of any import." My favorite is the calico aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum.

But don't they give us headaches when we try to identify them?

Here are a few quick tips for observers of American Asters. With other plants, we would not need to take so many photos, such care in observing, hold our cameras or phones quite as still. But with the Symphyotrichums.... we need to photograph the

  1. Leaves and stems (don't forget those basal/ground leaves!)
  2. The fronts and backs of leaves
  3. Where the leaves attach to the stems
  4. A whole inflorescence or two
  5. The flower heads from the front/top (to see the ray and disk florets), sides (backs of rays, involucres, phyllaries), and back (bracts, involucres, and phyllaries)
  6. Step back and take a photo of the whole plant

They take longer to photograph, but it's worth it!

Posted on January 16, 2021 05:39 PM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 17 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

November 01, 2020

The more I learn...

I'm studying Calico Aster (if you haven't guessed), Symphyotrichum lateriflorum. The more I read, the less confident I feel with former IDs! Self-confidence in science is a bad thing, perhaps. Just trying to make a mental note of the ones I question, marking them as favorites to go back to later. At least I know which ones are S. lat in my own backyard. :)

Yesterday, I went outside after several days of rain and cold. Most everything has gone to seed. I took off the heads of numerous goldenrods so that today's wind won't cause them to infiltrate areas they haven't already. I meant to get them before they started flying, but the rain got in the way. Or perhaps I should have braved it.

I didn't get any photos of the aster seed heads. I should have. At that time, it didn't occur to me that the upcoming 25-45mph winds will blow them away. Living in Windy-ana has its drawbacks.

I think deer like the young leaves of the calico. It's surprising to go back after a day and see a small plant gone. I hope they enjoyed it, and I'm glad it's perennial.

Have you ever watched a deer eat a dandelion in bloom? One time, I saw one eat each leaf and save the bloom and peduncle for last. Lately, this young buck (second year, I think) has been eating sunflower heads.

This has been a fun summer. My first year with iNat. My first to learn the name of this special sweet little flower I would see every year. Calico Aster. Symphyotrichum lateriflorum. An easy Haiku could be made from its name alone.

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum is the Calico Aster.

Ode to a tiny plant. Ode to an American Aster.

Posted on November 01, 2020 09:22 AM <span class="translation_missing" title="translation missing: en-us.by">by</span> elizabeth1067 elizabeth1067 | 26 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment