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Practical Plants Database

Fresh onto the interweb is a project that I had on my own things-to-do list for some time now, but this new site may well have saved me the pain. It’s a great new plant database, with over 7400 plant profiles and the very cool ability to drill-down to suitable plants by ticking off what you’re looking for based on the micro-situation of the spot you want to plant in (sun tolerance, water requirements, pH, soil type, etc.).

Being a wiki site, it’s open for everyone to help improve. And, unlike similar databases I’ve seen, this one is permaculture-oriented. As the name suggests, it is profiling ‘practical plants’ — i.e. plants with a use — as opposed to just edible plants.

Take a look around, and let me know your thoughts via comments below. My first impressions are that it’s an excellent start towards creating an extremely valuable resource.

23 Comments

    1. Do you know what’s happened to pfaf.org? I have been able to access it for about a week now…. Site seems removed??

  1. Nice site, a little more user friendly than the ‘Plants for a Future’ database that has been on the web for at least 7 years and they have been around for longer than this. They are both searchable, by using tickboxes on the criteria you seek. Use the database page on the ‘pfaf’ site (address below) it has some extra features you can search on also. The practical plant database looks more shiny than the pfaf one but they both seem to be a great asset. As long as the internet remains up and the grid on then they’ll be very useful! The pfaf database is downloadable.

    https://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx

  2. I feel it would be excellent however;

    I can access the website and limit the plants available, however I haven’t been able navigate to see more plants under the criteria I have chosen. for example I have chosen to limit the plants in my search to be hardy to zone 5 however the page only lists something like 25 plants, and I can’t find how to navigate to see more of them. Is this just me?

    Lake.

  3. So great it may be, but its all forked data from PFAF. A repackaged content interface. I support PFAF and feel this may divert resources from their fine work. Unfortunate, legal, but unfortunate.

  4. Lake: We’re working on the search functionality. It’s not as good as it could be! We’ll have an update ready soon.

    Daniel: Our intention is not to divert resources from PFAF, nor do I believe this will be the effect. PFAF has built an invaluable database of information compiled from a wealth of literature at their disposal, but they represent a project with greater scope than their database. Nor is Practical Plants simply a “repackaged interface”, but rather represents a project with very different aims, to which the important of open collaboration is paramount.

    We started with an aim to create a democratically owned and edited plant database and along the way we discovered that the PFAF database was available to give us a head start in achieving that goal. We have also integrated other open data from wikispecies and wikipedia and will continue to integrate new sources of data as we can, along with the excellent contributions made by the Practical Plants community.

    Practical Plants is an attempt to build an editorially open and communally owned database of plants with relevance to the global community. We believe that such a database is a vitally necessary tool, and we believe that it *must* be held under common ownership; democratically controlled and collaboratively built.

    Furthermore, the scope of our dataset is wider than that presently represented by PFAF. Of particular relevance to the permaculture community is the capacity to store beneficial/detrimental interactions between plants; sets of plants recognised as forming a successful polyculture/guild; and layer data (ground cover, canopy, climber, etc) is of great importance to anyone building a forest garden.

    You can read our open letter to PFAF here:
    https://practicalplants.org/community/discussion/11/an-open-letter-to-plants-for-a-future

    and an article discussing the PFAF database here:
    https://practicalplants.org/wiki/PracticalPlants:PFAF

    Yours,
    Andru Vallance (A developer behind Practical Plants)

  5. Please not ie also writen an interface for PFAF, with the aim of offering a dynamic search experience and an offline way a querying PFAF (can be executed on your hard drive, cd-rom or usb key)

    enjoy

  6. @Peter Willis

    Until very recently, the PFAf search interface was very scarse, one can only query plant by either name, functions or caracteristics. It was not fit to my needs so i developed my own search, and maybe it is the case for the pratical plants crow

    The search interface of PFAF is now better than in the past

  7. I looked at both PFAF and Practical Plants and I decided to got with Practical Plants.

    Aside from the fact that PFAF focuses on plants in England, here is the MAIN reason, from PFAF at https://www.pfaf.org/user/Blogs.aspx:

    “Since starting the appeal in November 2011 we’ve raised £3185 ($5094 USD) which is 17.7% of our target £18,000 (approx $28,000 USD). All donations to the charity for next year will be for: a part-time person for plant research, administration, website development/maintenance; Technical improvements to the website; Website costs including hosting and domain names.”

    That is TOTALLY ridiculous!!!

    I won’t support an organization that wasteful. I looked at their forum and quickly ended up at a thread that required membership. So, it is EXCLUSIONARY, most likely because they want to bombard you with solicitation requests. It’s everything I don’t like about so many non profits — somebody is looking for a job.

    Running numerous websites myself, I know how CHEAP web hosting is.

    So I fully support the Practical Plants WIKI at https://practicalplants.org/wiki/Practical_Plants as PAYING people for research as PFAF does is downright idiotic.

    I was going to start a simple plant listing for plants that grow well in our high desert climate on our new non profit site, but instead I will add my info to the Practical Plants Wiki and then just place a link to the Wiki entry on our site.

    It’s a bit daunting to look at all the info that can be entered about just ONE plant, but I will definitely make an effort.

    If the Wiki takes off, there will be some costs if it needs its own server, but nothing like the funds wasted at PFAF. While the Practical Plants database at this point is still severely limited to those same plants (as it started with the same database), we can ADD what we need.

    It’s up to us to make it happen!

    Christine

  8. I’m curious to know what the checks and balances are on a site like this. For example, how do you know if what a person enters is correct info? The major problem with plant databases is inaccurate info. That is why I have a hard time recommending PFAF, and if this site uses PFAF’s data, then what would make me (or more likely my students who I refer to it) trust it?

    As Christine referred to above, PFAF is seeking money for plant researchers, as the job is extremely time consuming and requires thorough checks and balances to assure accurate info. So if you deem accurate info unimportant then I’ll let you plant based upon bad info and wait 5-10 years for your perennials to mature only to realize that your design was flawed in the beginning because of poor plant data.

    Good plant data is worth a pretty penny; anyone who has tended land and planted untried species in a specific climate knows this. One of the major problems faced by aspiring forest gardeners and perennial vegetablers is getting accurate data to plant by. For every successful forest gardener inspired by permaculture there are probably two or more who have been turned off entirely due to unreliable info or exaggerated claims. I don’t think I can trust a plant database that is a wiki.

  9. Jason,
    That is an argument that was (and occasionally still is) weighed against Wikipedia, and yet it’s a source of information for millions of people worldwide and has proven it’s ability for accuracy time and time again.

    What makes a book more accurate than a wiki? How does your trust relationship differ? When a book is printed with information which is later revealed to be inaccurate or outdated, how are you to know without researching everything you read within it? If you have any book written more than a few years ago, how can you be sure it still an accurate source of information? Would you trust it more than a regularly updated wiki? If so, isn’t that an illogical faith in the physical over the digital? Perhaps you’d argue that you’d follow the book’s references, and research the subject further in recent literature – and I’d respond that you can do the same for content retrieved from a wiki.

    The checks and balances are simple and the same as you should expect from physical media:
    Firstly, all information must be referenced to existing literature. There WILL be inaccuracies, just like there are in print. Some of these will even be inaccuracies based on inaccuracies in the referenced printed literature. There WILL be occasions where users enter bad data through ignorance or error. These instances can, fortunately, be corrected more quickly and easily than if the inaccuracy is in the original literature.
    Secondly, all changes are logged and a full edit history exists. All edits can be patrolled to ensure the contribution matches expectations of quality regarding referencing, and if in doubt the article can be immediately rolled back to any point in it’s history.

    If the accuracy of data is as critical as you describe, should you be trusting ANY one source? A book, an editorially closed database, or a wiki can all contain inaccuracies. Would you design a system around information retrieved from a single book in faith that the information is accurate? If so, the scenario you describe is no different.

    With regards to the benefits of a wiki over an editorially closed database, this morning revealed a common and perfect example: There’s a discussion on our forum regarding the accuracy of a plant record as imported from PFAF, where a species is listed as having edible fruit when in fact it does not, and the referenced literature does not support the claim. In a closed database, this would require notifying the editor, waiting for them to research it and decide what to do, and waiting to see if the record would be updated accordingly. For a small organisation, that can be a very large task that can take a long time, or in the case that it’s not an editorial priority, possibly even postponed indefinitely, leaving inaccuracies present for others to see. On a wiki, any editorial tasks take the form of open, collaborative discussion and when consensus is achieved the article can be quickly updated. Errors are reviewed and corrected according to the priorities of individuals worldwide, and corrected immediately.

    Yours,
    Andru Vallance (Practical Plants)

  10. “What makes a book more accurate than a wiki? How does your trust relationship differ?”
    It has one or two authors who have put their name on the line and have credentials to make me know their background and how they might know the info they present. It has an editor and publisher who put their name and money on the line in a similar fashion. Usually story/history/personal experience is used to illustrate knowledge.

    “When a book is printed with information which is later revealed to be inaccurate or outdated, how are you to know without researching everything you read within it?”
    Always check against multiple sources, that’s the code of performing research. I think wikipedia is a great starting point for example, but definitely to be backed up by deep research. Similarly I tell my students to start at PFAF, but to dig much deeper.

    “If you have any book written more than a few years ago, how can you be sure it still an accurate source of information?”
    If plants are genetically changing that significantly every few years, this planet would be a very different place.

    “Would you trust it more than a regularly updated wiki?””
    Yes, as you do, evidenced by the fact that you require reference to literature for entered data, which I think is a very good thing, by the way.

    “If so, isn’t that an illogical faith in the physical over the digital?”
    No. And I like digital media very much, so I hope you won’t think I’m a luddite for print media. I just recognize they are different, with individual strengths.

    “If the accuracy of data is as critical as you describe, should you be trusting ANY one source?”
    No, but I try to determine trustworthy sources to check against, so in this case PFAF and PP would be starting points rather than deep research.

    “A book, an editorially closed database, or a wiki can all contain inaccuracies. Would you design a system around information retrieved from a single book in faith that the information is accurate?”
    No. Always check against multiple reliable sources, so I hope you encourage your site users to do that.

    But here is the issue. If you use PFAF’s data, and my students use PFAF and Practical Plants as two sources, well, the info is the same (or similar), so it’s not two sources. And, this is a major difference between print media and digital media. Print media doesn’t generally allow the direct repetition of a suite of information previously published.

    Over time, I think your site has the chance to become more valuable than PFAF, but would I recommend it over the book on the table in the classroom? No. Here is why (in addition to the above answers): It is a monumental task to take on the world’s plant database. For example, a field guide to Planet Earth’s plants would inherently contain gross inaccuracies. The scope is too big. It is like globalized anything, it’s too large of a scale. Focus regionally with experts who have years and decades of first hand experience and you’ve tackled one region, and build from there. Sort of a start small and build on your success thing. For example, would I ask Bill Mollison to tell me what plants to use in North America? No. I would ask our regional experts. This tends to be the problem with globalized anything. It runs over the very detailed and important information that is held at the small, local and regional scale. I say that only to illustrate that PFAF or PP could make a good place to get some ideas flowing, but I will always recommend people go to the local and regional experts for trustworthy information.

    So that said, I truly wish you success with Practical Plants. I originally commented because I was curious to know what the checks and balances were, and thanks for answering. I just see inherent limitations in the format. It will be of value no doubt about it, but hopefully it won’t be advertised as the end all be all of plant info.

  11. I’ve spent more money on books than I care to remember and I finally figured out that it’s up to ME to find out what will grow here and do well.

    There is very little scientific research on companion planting, guilds, biodynamics, AACT, etc. because the INDUSTRY only wants us to buy chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and huge machines for monoculture factory farming. Our universities (in the US) are controlled by international corporations who fund the research.

    Monsanto published a gazillion studies telling us that GMOs are SAFE.

    The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) cites research determining that GMOs, pesticides, herbicides and chemical in our food are SAFE.

    Big pharma wants us to buy pills instead of growing herbs.

    There’s science and then there’s an awful lot of BS in scientific books. That doesn’t mean that all research is biased and falsified, but as Jason mentioned, it depends on the author.

    This database creates the opportunity for people who are implementing permaculture principles to share their experiences and knowledge and to bypass the corporate BS.

  12. Much info concerning edible plants has been collected by anthropologists and so on
    But often they did not discribe the way those plants have to be processed to make them edible!
    Sturtevant , ccornucopia ,pfaff database ,are therefore in many cases not trustable
    And when you are copying that, information : idem! Sorry for my bad engllish Later on Iwill give you some examples heartfull greetings and success wished to you by OOTJE The Netherlands}

  13. First example:
    Impatiens glandulifera :,everywhere I find ,that ,the young shoots and leaves are edible
    .Often with the warning for the calcium oxalaat,some autors advise to boil the plant in one or two changes of water
    In India the plant is used as a vegetable Several people in Holland who did read this information dit get more or less sick of it!
    I ate the young ,{not infected] shoots too.
    No problem at all neither raw or cooked!The information about the right preparation is lacking.
    You have to cut off the slightly poissonous stem above the nodes,Then ,even with your hands you can tear off the skin.
    The taste is very cucumberlike ,also cooked it is a palatable vegetable,nothing wrong with it are you not completely convinced ,then admit chalc powder or make a combination with milk products
    and of course scientific investigation is needed
    Heartfull of greetings OOTJE

  14. This looks like a fabulous tool! I appreciate how much work has gone into it. I am however a little confused with the hardiness and heat zones in the American versions. Is there an Australian equivalent to these please, it would make it much simpler to identify suitable species based on Australian hardiness/heat zones. Thank you

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