WFO logo

About the World Flora Online project

WFO Logo

Frequently Asked Questions

A full account of the WFO and what it is aiming to achieve has been published as an open-access paper in Taxon (World Flora Online: Placing taxonomists at the heart of a definitive and comprehensive global resource on the world's plants), and short answers to questions we are often asked are given below.

What is World Flora Online?

WFO is a project to create an open-access web-based compendium of the world’s 400,000 species of vascular plants and mosses. It is a collaborative, international project, building upon existing knowledge and published Floras, checklists and revisions but will also require the collection and generation of new information on poorly known plant groups and plants in unexplored regions.

Why Create a World Flora Online?

In 2010, the updated Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity included as its first target (Target 1) the need for 'An online flora of all known plants.' With this background in mind, in January 2012 the Missouri Botanical Garden hosted a meeting with representatives from three other institutions, the New York Botanical Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—all members of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC)—to discuss how to achieve GSPC Target 1 by 2020. The meeting outlined the scope and content of the WFO and initiated an international consortium of institutions and organizations to collaborate on providing that content.

Who is involved in World Flora Online?

By the end of 2020 the WFO Consortium included 45 international institutions and organizations. This number continues to grow as more organizations sign the Partner MoU and join WFO. A complete list of currrent signatories is given on the Consortium Members page.

How is the World Flora Online organization managed and supported? What is its organizational structure?

All WFO Consortium members are members of the WFO Council which meets twice each year, hosted by a member institution or virtually. There are three working groups within the Council: a Technical Working Group, involved in the management of the web portal and the data; a Taxonomic Working Group, in charge of the Taxonomic Backbone and Content for the WFO.; and a Communications Working Group, which focuses on disseminating WFO’s activities. The Council and the working groups are co-chaired by members elected at each physical meeting of council for the following year. The Council engages with existing Taxonomic Expert Networks (TENs) and delegates to them responsibility for providing reviewed information for all validly published names and their classification for particular plant groups (usually a specific family or several families). The WFO aims to foster the development of TENs where none exist at present.

How is WFO funded?

Consortium members provide funding for their own staff to participate in WFO. There are no membership fees. Google provides cloud credits used for hosting the WFO website. Some Consortium members have received funding to support their WFO activities, and these are acknowledged on the Who we are page.

What taxonomic groups are included in World Flora Online?

World Flora Online contains all plant groups: bryophytes, pteridophytes, gymnosperms and angiosperms.

What geographical areas are covered by WFO?

All areas of the world are included in WFO with emphasis on the national level.

What type of information is included in a World Flora Online species treatment?

The goal is to provide the current accepted name and taxonomic position for each species, as well as a description and illustration. A complete WFO record for a species could include these data elements:

Family and ordinal placement;

Literature citation for original description;

Taxonomic Status (accepted or synonym);

Description (with citation of source of description); there may be multiple descriptions, especially for widely-distributed species;

Distribution statement;

Conservation status, based on IUCN criteria;

Human uses;

Taxonomic synonyms;

Bibliography;

External Links Links to data sources.

Additionally, WFO seeks to include national-level distribution, habit and habitat, vernacular names, and identification keys as they become available.

Where does this information come from?

The information incorporated into WFO comes from existing electronic datasets, monographs, national and regional Floras, checklists and monographs (used with permission of the publisher), and from Taxonomic Expert Networks (TENs) coordinated by collaborating institutions. Sources are credited in the About Pages and alongside the data in the main portal.

What is the difference between Taxonomic Backbone and Descriptive content?

The TAXONOMIC BACKBONE - is a comprehensive global consensus taxonomic hierarchy of accepted names and synonyms is fundamental to WFO for organizing the descriptions and images of families, genera and species. The Plant List v1.1 (2013) was the starting point for the Taxonomic Backbone for the WFO portal. This data is being updated and The Plant List has now been replaced by the WFO Plant List (2021 onwards), generated as snapshots of the Taxonomic Backbone. Updating of the taxonomic backbone will be a continuous process as we refine our understanding of the relationships among plants. The data included in the taxonomic backbone include the taxonomic names (from order to family through sub-species level), accepted names and synonyms, and literature citation of the original description. All names included in the backbone are assigned a globally unique identifier (WFO-ID) that is related to other existing indices of botanical nomenclature.

DESCRIPTIVE CONTENT - consists of descriptions of taxa with source references. Content may also include images, geographic distributions, habit and habitat, human uses and conservation threat status. Identification keys for the differentiation of species, genera or families may also be included.

How can I use data from WFO? (Is WFO Online information restricted for use)?

All Taxonomic Backbone data in the WFO are provided with a Creative Commons Zero (CC-0) license and is unrestricted for use. Descriptive Content data contributors can determine what Creative Commons license applies to the data they contribute. For each descriptive data element contributed, there is a link to the source of the data and an indication of the license assigned to it. Our recommendation to descriptive data contributors is that the CC-0 or CC-BY licenses be used.

Can data from the WFO be downloaded?

Currently, only the results of a search can be downloaded by logged in Users – the download button is at top right of search results. Snapshots of the whole and subsets of the Taxonomic Backbone can be downloaded via the WFO Plant List, snapshos of the whole backbone can also be downloaded via the Download Data tab of the Portal.

How to cite WFO?

World Flora Online, http://www.worldfloraonline.org/, date accessed. If you refer to individual records, please follow the instructions on those pages.

Can I as an individual scientist contribute data to World Flora Online?

Yes! For a contribution to the Taxonomic Backbone a scientist would first contact the WFO Taxonomic Working Group (taxwg@worldfloraonline.org) to discuss the type of data to be contributed (contact@worldfloraonline.org). If a TEN already exists for the scientist’s area of expertise, the inquiry may be directed to the leaders of the TEN. Visit the WFO website for information about the data structure required for upload of Taxonomic Backbone data to the WFO Data Portal. Descriptive Content, such as a digital monograph, can be contributed by first contacting the Taxonomic Working Group for authorization to liaise with the WFO Gatekeeper. Visit the WFO website for information about the data structure required for uploading descriptive data to the WFO Data Portal.

How will I be credited for my work? How would I benefit from contributing to WFO?

All contributions that are added to WFO will be credited to the author, with a link to the source (if digital) or bibliographic reference, and for descriptive data a statement about the applicable license for reuse of the descriptive content. A scientist would benefit from contributing to WFO through greater exposure of their work. Data contributed to WFO will be widely accessible to the taxonomic community and is more likely to be cited than if published behind a firewall or on a project-specific website. Additionally, contributing to WFO could be viewed as a favorable broader impact for a research proposal. To learn about the specific requirements and format for contributing data to WFO, please see the Contributor’s Guides for Descriptive Content and Taxonomic Backbone data in the Documents page.

How can my institution participate in WFO?

Any interested organization or institution is welcome to join the WFO Consortium and take part in WFO Council deliberations, by either attending the meetings (in person or virtual) of Council and the Working Groups, or participating in on-line discussions. Inquiries about joining the WFO Consortium should be directed to contact@worldfloraonline.org.

What makes WFO different from other compilations of species descriptions?

The sources of content (taxonomic backbone and descriptive content) for the WFO will be overseen by the WFO Taxonomic Working Group in conjunction with the participating TENS (Taxonomic Expert Networks) and other WFO partners. Thus, WFO is a synoptic Flora with a defined, descriptive data set containing largely pre-existing data on the world’s plant species.

How is the World Flora Online relevant at a national level?

Although it will primarily provide a global overview of the diversity of plant species on the planet, the World Flora Online will become an essential tool for conservation planners, policy makers and practitioners at all levels. For example, countries without a national Flora, or without a recent one, will benefit from being able to draw upon the floristic treatments that will be included in the World Flora Online.

Its after 2020, is the WFO continuing to be developed?

Yes! The WFO Consortium was successful in meeting the GSPC 2020 target of establishing an online flora of all known plants, but work continues on improving the coverage and accuracy of the data provided. Descriptive content is added from national and regional Floras around the world, increasing the utility of WFO, and the concensus classification is constanly beeing refined and updated by taxonomci experts. The Consortium continues to grow, and new Taxonomic Expert Networks are formed to extend taxonomic scrutiny of the taxonomic backbone. The Consortium is also looking for opportunities to enhance the user experience by redeveloping the user interface and the database system which supports it.

Where can I learn more about World Flora Online?

Explore the WFO website and documents, including the open-access paper in Taxon: World Flora Online: Placing taxonomists at the heart of a definitive and comprehensive global resource on the world's plants

How to contact WFO?

Send an email to contact@worldfloraonline.org.