Recently there was a few questions asking for identification of potentially edible species:

I think that there is a similar problem with this kind of questions like with a medical advice questions (not allowed). The identification may be wrong and someone may get poisoned based on information in one of answers.

Should we do something about it? For example some kind of warning that one should use the information on this webside on his own risk?

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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I think both of these questions would be better served on Gardening & Landscaping rather than here. Not that horticulturists aren't present here, but just because asking about how edible something is strikes me as more a gardener's concern. Just my opinion, mind -- this isn't by any means a policy call. $\endgroup$ – Aarthi Sep 26 '12 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that professing the edibility of a wild plant or fungus does not belong in Gardening. People die each year because river guides, or other experts feed them "Water Chestnut" or some other misidentified plant. They should be asked here, and a botanist should explain that in order to be certain it is safe, a sample should be identified by an expert using a dichotomous key. Fungi are even more iffy. I wouldn't even trust a Mycologist beyond a very few particularly obvious edible mushrooms. Adding a description of how they will die if it turns out to be misidentified might also help;) $\endgroup$ – S. Albano Oct 11 '12 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ @S.Albano good points, except I don't think that there is anything particularly credible about using a dichotomous key. $\endgroup$ – David LeBauer Oct 15 '12 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ @David Depends on the dichotomous key. I have two that I use for my region. Utah Flora and Flora of the Pacific Northwest. They are about the size of an encyclopaedia volume, and are what plant taxonomists use for species level identification. I also have a volume from Flora of North America devoted to identification of grasses alone. Presumably an expert would be using an authoritative key for their area, rather than something they picked up during a day trip to a local wilderness preserve. $\endgroup$ – S. Albano Oct 15 '12 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, the only thing better would be to go to the herbarium where a type specimen of the species is stored and directly compare your sample to that. $\endgroup$ – S. Albano Oct 15 '12 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ @S.Albano my point may not have been clear. It was that using a dichotomous key is not sufficient, your examples rely on a) specific, authoritative keys and b) a knowledgeable user. So I still think my point is valid. $\endgroup$ – David LeBauer Oct 15 '12 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @David my original comment specified an expert user as well, so perhaps you missed that. In that case we appear to agree. ;) $\endgroup$ – S. Albano Oct 15 '12 at 20:50

This is certainly the more bizarre but totally believable scenarios. I think that we should absolutely allow the questions but we may need to edit the questions in a way where they don't involve the edibility of the species and guide the answers from refraining from answering that part of the question.

A general warning would be a confusing legal issue.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 If there is not enough information to answer the question confidently, it should probably be flagged as "Not a Real Question", and the OP prompted for additional information. $\endgroup$ – S. Albano Oct 28 '12 at 3:27

Neither of the example questions provide very much evidence of research or thought.

Perhaps the FAQ should have guidelines for asking species identification, including the minimum required amount of information.

Regarding edibility, there are many plants and fungi that a botanist could identify with very high accuracy from a single photo, but I think that suggesting something is edible based on photographs is a bad idea. As an imperfect analogy, it would be easy to say (about the picture below) "that is almost certainly bread" without wishing to imply that it is edible.


(photo by Logan Sakai http://www.flickr.com/photos/loganz/3443212473/sizes/m/in/photostream/)


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