Plant Names Project

The Plant Names Project (PNP) is a consortium formed in mid-1997 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Harvard University Herbaria and the Australian National Herbarium. The PNP intends to create and maintain a comprehensive index of the names of all seed plants and to make it freely available on the Internet as the International Plant Names Index (IPNI). Development of the technological infrastructure for this project is already well advanced, and the first phase, funded by the US National Science Foundation, is finished. This grant was for the establishment of a proof-of-concept distributed objects information system using the names from Brummitt and Powell’s Authors of Plant Names (1992) combined with Harvard’s records of author names. We now have a network of three database servers (at Canberra, Harvard and Kew) which function collectively as an Authority Data Server with which users can interact, not only to find and retrieve data, but also to contribute additions and corrections to the data held there.

We are now beginning the exciting second phase of the project, helped by a grant from NSF and the US Geological Survey. The three partner institutions will merge and standardise the data held in their respective nomenclatural indices (Index Kewensis, the Gray Index and the Australian Plant Names Index (APNI)). We will develop infrastructure to manage and edit the merged dataset and make it freely available in a continuously updated form to as wide an audience as possible. The Index Kewensis is world-wide in scope and covers flowering plants; its entries are not standardised. The Gray Index covers names of all vascular plants of the New World published since 1886; its entries are almost completely standardised against such sources as Taxonomic Literature (edn 2, 1976–88, F Stafleu and R H Cowan, editors). APNI includes names of all vascular plants growing in Australia; its entries are both standardised and verified. Both APNI and the Gray Index contain references to types and to infraspecific names and are on the Web. The Index Kewensis has made reference to infraspecific categories since 1971 and has recently begun to include information on types; it is available as hard copy or on CD-ROM.

We consider the scalability of IPNI and the submissions module we have developed for it to be of fundamental importance. Although there are currently only three servers (one at each of the three partner institutions), the use of distributed object architecture will allow the system to be scaled up to include many more contributors and editors at other institutions. IPNI can also be mirrored to institutions and projects.

There are four important aspects of the submissions mechanism.

  • The mechanism enables changes – additions or corrections – to be made by anybody with access to IPNI directly to it. These changes will appear in IPNI as soon as they are made, it will be clear to all users that they have not been checked. Editors, whether of particular taxa, particular types of names (e.g. names described by Linnaeus), or of particular directories (e.g. periodical lists), will check the changes, whereupon the changes will be integrated seamlessly into the whole.
  • Any and all changes suggested will become part of the permanent contribution history of that record, and this history, too, can be accessed by users.
  • By making it easy for the whole community to submit additions and corrections, the difficult process of editing and verifying the existing entries will be greatly facilitated.
  • The submission module itself can be adapted for a variety of uses. For instance, it could serve as the mechanism by which names proposed for a phylogenetic naming system are recorded.

More information is available on our web page:, and those interested in playing an active role as a contributor or editor should contact the PNP directly.