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The best way to learn to recognize tropical plants might be walks in the field with a knowledgeable botanist. Repeatedly. Since that is rarely possible in the Neotropics (the tropics of the Americas), we are looking for other ways to help. It will never be really easy -- there are just too many different species, and too many plant groups that look superficially similar. In spite of the difficulties, we hope this site, which is still in development, will be a learning and identification tool for both beginners and professionals.

While some tropical plant families are easy for a beginner to distinguish with the bare eye, most are not. But the genera, or groups of species within families, are usually easier to learn to recognize because they are more consistent in their "look". The species of a genus are mostly variations on a theme, the theme being the conspicuous genus characteristics. If one can learn the themes or the "look" of the common genera, then it is much easier to turn to other resources to find out the species.

The ability to recognize plants quickly depends on visual memory and 'pattern recognition' and these abilities vary greatly in humans. Artists often learn to recognize plants much faster than the average scientist. Although this fuzzy 'gestalt' approach may seem unscientific, it is a convenient shortcut to getting plants roughly identified before resorting to more rigorous comparison using keys and technical description. By first learning the largest or most easily recognized groups, one can deal with them quickly and focus more attention at the species level or on the less common or more difficult groups.

We are still preparing images for several more important families, and will continue to add photos of more species. Already included are many of the commonest species found in Neotropical forests, and this is a good way to familiarize oneself with common tropical genera. We will be adding more information about species such as the countries in which they are found, the arrangement of leaves, the flower color, etc. This will permit the user to select a smaller set of plants if trying to identify something they have seen or photographed.

We welcome corrections and suggestions which can be sent to Robin Foster rfoster@fieldmuseum.org or to rrc@fieldmuseum.org. All of us working in the Neotropics are still learning these plants, a continuous task given the more than 300 families, more than 5,000 genera, and an estimated 80,000 species, many of which are still undescribed and without names.

The move to realign plant families and genera based on DNA evidence is gaining momentum as more published works begin to use the APG III classifications. We have been conservative here in order to not cause more confusion for people with little access to new literature, but will be making the changes before long.

We thank many other botanists who went beyond the call of duty in taking their valuable time trying to identify many of the plants in these photos. They cannot be held responsible for errors of identification because many or most photos had no voucher specimens, and they have not seen all of the photos included here. Those who have helped most in order by family: Acanthaceae: Dieter Wasshausen, US; Annonaceae: David Johnson, OWU; Araceae: Tom Croat: MO; Aristolochiaceae: Favio Gonzalez, COL; Asteraceae, John Pruski, MO; Balanophoraceae: Bertil Hansen, C; Berberidaceae: Carmen Ulloa, MO; Bignoniaceae: Lucia Lohmann, SPF; Bromeliaceae: Harry Luther, SEL, Jose Manzanares, QCNE; Burseraceae: Paul Fine, UC, Doug Daly, NY; Campanulaceae: Tom Lammers, OSH; Clusiaceae: Barry Hammel, MO; Commelinaceae: Bob Faden, US; Convolvulaceae: Daniel Austin; Cucurbitaceae: Mike Nee, NY; Ericaceae: James Luteyn & Paola Pedraza, NY; Erythroxylaceae: Adolfo Jara, COL; Euphorbiaceae: Hans-Joachim Esser, M, Paul Berry, MICH, Ken Wurdack, US; Fabaceae: David Neill, MO; Gentianaceae: Lena Struhwe & Jason Grant; Gesneriaceae: Larry Skog & John Clark, US, Irayda Salinas, USM, Laura Clavijo, COL; Heliconiaceae: John Kress, US; Hippocrateaceae: Julio Lombardi, HRBC; Lecythidaceae: Scott Mori, NY; Loranthaceae: Job Kuijt, UVIC; Marantaceae: Helen Kennedy, UBC; Marcgraviaceae: Stefan Dressler, FR; Melastomataceae: Fabian Michelangeli, NY; Menispermaceae: Myrtaceae: Lúcia Kawasaki, F & Bruce Holst, SEL; Onagraceae: Paul Berry, MICH; Oxalidaceae: Eve Emshwiller, WIS; Passifloraceae: Peter Jorgensen, MO; Picramniaceae: Jose Pirani, SPF; Poaceae: Lynn Clark, ISC, Gerrit Davidse, MO; Rosaceae: Katya Romoleroux, PUCE; Rubiaceae: Charlotte Taylor, MO; Rutaceae: Jackie Kallunki, NY; Sapindaceae: Pedro Acevedo, US; Scrophulariaceae: Sune Holt; Solanaceae: Sandra Knapp, BM, Mike Nee, NY; Turneraceae: María Mercedes Arbo, CTES; Valerianaceae: Fred Barrie, MO; Violaceae: Harvey Ballard, BHO; Viscaceae: Job Kuijt, UVIC; Vitaceae: Julio Lombardi, HRBC; Vochysiaceae: Lúcia Kawasaki, F. Others will be recognized as the project continues.


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