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What We Achieved in 2019

December 30th, 2019 by Alex Zorach

2019 has been an extraordinary year for bplant.org! From our launch in January to now, we have made incredible strides both in developing the programming behind the site, and populating the site with articles, maps, images, and other data.

Here we summarize what we've accomplished in the past year, and highlight our progress towards various goals.

Plant Articles & Photos

We have published 35 articles, meaning that the articles are listed on on plant list and also able to be indexed and returned in external web searches. However, we have 6174 stub entries for plant species. Of these, a total of 287 articles are under construction, with some written content, and 120 of them have a main or featured image. You can read any of the incomplete articles and stub entries by searching for the plants by common or scientific name in the search box at the top of each page.

We also added 701 plant photos. These images include both original photography and open-licensed images including public domain works and ones with Creative Commons licensing. We show the licensing for each image, and we use open-licensed images whenever possible, so you can bplant.org as a repository of freely usable plant photographs to use in your own educational materials.

This is one of our original photos, showing the leaf scar of an eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra); this photo appears in our guide on distinguishing black walnut from butternut. Photo © Alex Zorach, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Plant Comparison / ID Guides

We have completed 29 plant comparison / ID guides, and we have 27 more that are partially complete and still viewable. We have focused on plant species common in eastern North America, and compared them to the species they are most commonly confused with.

Here are the complete guides we published in 2019:
We set these guides up so that the images of the most important ID characteristics are automatically made into a collage when sharing them on social media. Try for yourself pasting the URL of one of these guides into Facebook or Twitter and see the collage appear!

The four images on the left here show Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), whereas on the right are pictures of a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).

Ecoregion Maps & Locator

The ecoregion section of our site is our crowning achievement that has progressed much more quickly than we had anticipated. We successfully imported data on 3 levels of ecoregions for all of North America, and 4 for the continental united states. We generated interactive maps for all of these regions, and also generated maps of the ecoregions of all lower 48 states. You can reach these from the "Regions" tab at the top of each page, and there are also further links in the page footer.

We also developed and published an ecoregion locator, which can enable you to pin a point on a map and see the full hierarchy of regions that the point is in.

Ecoregion Articles & Images

One of our moderate-term goals is to write articles and find illustrative images for each of the ecoregions listed on our site. As there are a total of 1209 articles to be written, this is an ambitious undertaking. We currently have articles completed for 222 regions, and 6 more under construction. 51 articles currently have images.

However, regionally, we have created a more complete landscape of ecoregions for the Mid-atlantic and northeast. For example, we have completed ecoregion articles on all the level 4 ecoregions of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachussets, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

This map of New York shows all the state's ecoregions; all these articles are complete and many have images. You can find maps of the other states under ecoregions by US State, which you can access in the footer of any page.

We have been expanding out regionally, but also prioritizing ecoregions near major population centers throughout the U.S. This will help us to first cover the regions most relevant to people viewing our site.

Range Maps & Distribution Info

One of our key goals is the development and maintenance of plant range maps based on ecoregions rather than political boundaries.

We began our foray into range maps by importing data to auto-generate range maps of native plants in the continental U.S., and we have published around 6000 such maps, although they have numerous shortcomings as we explained in our August blog post.

However, we are also well underway building range maps for introduced (including invasive) plants. For a preview, see our range map for garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which to our knowledge is the first published ecoregion-based range map of garlic mustard in North America; that map is currently accurate to level 3 ecoregions.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is one of the most important and ecologically-damaging invasive plants in North America; this range map shows which level 3 ecoregions it has been introduced to, and also shows one region where it is persistent in gardens (due to irrigation) but does not survive in the wild.

Donations & Finances

We began accepting donations in mid-October, using Liberapay to facilitate regular donations. We raised a total of $158.34, representing donations of $164 and $5.66 in processing fees, amounting to 3.45% of donations. The only dedicated costs associated with bplant.org were $20.17 paid to our domain registrar and cloud hosting provider.

These (and future finances) will also be viewable in our finances page, which is linked in the footer. Our goal is to be more transparent even than most non-profit organizations, both so that you can know how we are being run, and to set an example to inspire other organizations to be more open.

Please consider donating if you have not yet done so! We have not put much energy into soliciting donations; the more readily people donate, the less effort and resources we will need to put into fundraising, and the more we can put into directly working on the site. If you have not already done so, you can read our blog post about accepting donations and contact us if you have more questions!

Social Media Presence

In 2019 we first created a Facebook page, and later in the year, also created accounts on Twitter and Instagram. You can find these social media profiles, along with any others that we may add later, in the footer at the bottom of each page.

We hope to use our social media accounts for multiple purposes: one is to publicize our site and reach new people interested in our site. A second is educational, by posting tidbits of informational material that may reach a broader audience of people who never actually visit the site. A third is interactive, to start a conversation and engage with people who have something to say about our site or about any topics we cover.

Our Instagram is our newest social media account!

User Accounts and Interactive Features

We also developed a lot of the site's interactive features, including user profiles and the ability to upload photos and submit observations of plants and take notes on those observations. We also have a small group of users testing these features.

However, we have not been prioritizing development of this aspects of the site for several reasons. One, we do not wish to duplicate the efforts of existing sites like iNaturalist, which already do an oustanding job of more casual reporting of living organisms, including plants.

We have been prioritizing more educational and informational content, because it is a weak point in the landscape of other plant websites. The plan is to make bplant.org focus on helping people develop more rigorous plant identification skills and also learn more about plants' ecology. People already experienced with how to identify plants can then use bplant.org to report observations in ways that can directly help us to build and tweak range maps and track plant populations with relevance to conservation efforts. People who want help with more elementary plant ID questions can use other sites including iNaturalist and various plant ID apps.

What's next?

In 2020, we plan to continue much of what we have already been doing, but we also have some exciting new undertakings.

One key project, already well underway, is the development of a tool for building and maintaining plant range maps, which will help us to construct and update these maps with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. This will allow us to advance our goals of building range maps for introduced species and addressing shortcomings in our range maps of native species.

As our body of articles, ecoregions, and plant range maps and ID guides becomes more complete, you can expect to see new features such as the ability to generate plant lists by ecoregion, and the ability to keep track of which plants you are learning to identify in your particular regions.

We look forward to seeing you in 2020!