Smarter Internet searching

Get better results from Internet Searches

  1. wcutler
    This info has been extracted from the long thread
    Using the Internet wisely to search for plants!

    The point here is that computers are not people. You need to be mindful in an Internet search that:
    • Computers do not figure out sentences and irrelevant words.
    • They do not understand that common names are common non-botanical terms and that you want the botanical one.
    • They return hits for any of the words in your search, not just if all the words are on the page.
    • Pages that have many plants, with each word in your search being used it a different plant's description, will still be return as hits, particularly if the name you used is in the page title.
    • Not everything on the internet is accurate. Anyone can make a forum or blog posting, or put up an internet site, and be mistaken about a plant's ID or information about the plant.
    In your search, 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.

    To give yourself a better chance of finding information on your plant:

    Use the botanical name
    If you know the botanical name, use that in your search instead of the common name; many plants have the same common name, and many common names have other uses than plant names. If you find the botanical name among your first search results with a lot of non-botanical hits or hits that are not related to your plant, do another search with the botanical name.
    If you only have the common name, you might be able to find the botanical name. For instance, here is a British source (Excel spreadsheet) listing the scientific names and the official English names:
    produced by the Botanical Society of the British Isles.

    You can filter your search by country code, for example: "Kigelia africana" should return information about this plant from South African sites where the plant is native, possibly providing information where expertise is expected to be better.

    Use the common name
    It depends what you are looking for. If the kind of information you are seeking did not come up in your search, and it is information that could be provided, or even better provided, by any owner of the plant in a blog article, you may find it in non-botanical sources by using the common name. Non-botanical people tend to use common names in their blogs or on forums, and if you want to know if you can put your ZZ plant outside at night in Vancouver, you might find your reply if you call it just that.

    Use more than one search engine
    Google is known to give priority to sites that are selling the item you are searching. Other engines use different ways of sorting the hits - you may get a different group of hits.

    Use search keys
    If you have no name but only characteristics, you can try "keys" that let you enter what characteristics you know and bring up plants that have all those characteristics. Several university sites offer keys for common plants in their location. They are useful if your plant (usually for these sites, tree) is something you see a lot and if you are in the same climate area as the site offering the key.

    Some scientific sites offer botanical keys that are binary in nature. You answer the first question and are sent to different next questions depending on your answer. If you don't know the answer to the first question, you're out. Other sites provide non-binary searches, where you can tick several different characteristics and they will list all plants in their database that match on all counts. Here is a thread where some of this type of search sites are given: Search for IDs by characteristics.

    Search by photo ID
    There are sites that will compare your photo with ones on their site, to find a match. Google photos does that. I have used it with almost no success, though it did find the exact photo for which I was searching, already posted for ID on another site.