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Public-images-osm logo.svg plant_community
Describes the plant community of a feature. Show/edit corresponding data item.
Group: properties
Used on these elements
may be used on nodesmay be used on waysmay be used on areas (and multipolygon relations)use on relations unspecified
Status: undefined

plant_community=* is intended as a general tag for adding more detailed information to areas tagged with one of the more general Vegetation tags.

General principles

Detailed information on plant communities (phytosociology) is likely to be restricted to a small proportion of OSM contributors. It is therefore inappropriate to ask the general community to make determination of plant communities if they do not have the appropriate knowledge.

Phytosociological information may be used in a variety of different ways:

  • Add detail of landcover where this is appropriate for other activities (such as orienteering, where coniferous woodland types may present very different terrain.
  • Add detail of ecology for a wide range of ecological purposes, but typically identification of suitable habitat for plants and animals.
  • Provide a means to identify very distinctive plant communities which are used for navigation or similar purposes (e.g., the INT-1 hydrographical convention).
  • Provide a means to identify distinctive plant communities which are rare, unusual, or particularly scenic (e.g., Larch woods in the Alps).

Widely used classifications

This discussion mainly addresses European classifications, which provide a base for a restricted set of major biomes (Tundra, Boreal Coniferous Woodland, Temperate Broadleaved Woodland, Steppe, and Mediterranean). It is important that this should be extended to cover other major biomes so as to spot any obvious pitfalls in the recommended approach.


See Phytosociology. This is probably the most influential and widely used approach in Europe, sometimes called the Zurich-Montpellier school after the two institutions where Braun-Blanquet worked. In principle this can be applied anywhere, but it is undoubtedly eurocentric.


See Corine_Land_Cover for current mapping of the CORINE classes to OSM tags. Also the NBN Habitat directory can be helpful[1]. CORINE is really a landuse/landcover classification, but is potentially a useful starting point.


A more detailed scheme from the European Environment Agency. Details here

UK Phase 1 Habitat Classification

This is a widely used scheme in the UK, developed by the JNCC. For more details, including suggested tags, see Plant Community/UK Phase 1 Habitat Classification.

UK National Vegetation Classification

An classification independently developed for the UK by Rodwell and associates. Although many of the classes can readily be associated with typical associations in the Zurich-Montpellier system the underlying approach is different. One problem with the UK NVC is that it is incomplete in that some native plants and widespread introduced plants are not assignable to specific communities. Many communities are described on NBN and wikipedia [2].

For more details see Plant Community/British National Vegetation Classification

In order to develop the tagging concept the following table lists a number of NVC communities and initial thoughts about how they can be tagged.

NVC Category NVC Ref NVC Name Current likely OSM Tagging Extended tagging for phytosociology Remarks
Woodland & Scrub W6 Alnus glutinosa - Urtica dioica woodland natural=wood and/or landuse=forest Typical riparian woodland of lowland rivers in Europe
Woodland & Scrub W10 "Quercus robur - Pteridum aquilinum - Rubus fruticosus woodland" natural=wood and/or landuse=forest Oak woodland with bracken and bramble undergrowth.
Woodland & Scrub W21 Crataegus monogyna - Hedera helix scrub natural=scrub or natural=woodland Classic hawthorn scrub with patches of ivy in the ground layer. May be perceived as woodland rather than scrub by mappers.
Woodland & Scrub W25 Pteridium aquilinum - Rubus fruticosus underscrub no obvious tags in use, but natural=bracken may be suitable Bracken apparently covers about 1% of the Earth's landarea, it should therefore be mapped!
Mesotrophic Grasslands MG7 Lolium perenne leys and related grasslands a variety of tags might indicate this : landuse=grass, or landuse=farmland with crop=*, or landuse=meadow Leys are areas of permanent grassland which are periodically re-sown and in modern agricultural management will have extensive addition of fertiliser. They tend to be very species poor. They are not used for pasturage but for crops of hay or wet grass for silage.

US National Vegetation Classification

The US National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) is arranged into upper level, middle level, and lower level classes. At the lowest level, Alliance and Association are described by major component species of the overstory and understory. For Associations wherein tree species make up the dominant vegetation, an accompanying understory shrub or herbaceous species is suffixed as an additional discriminating indicator. Given the inability of remote sensing methods to reliably discern understory vegetaiton, it may be better to use Alliance level or Group or even Macrogroup classifications to both increase relative accuracy of classification and limit the number of available classes.

USNVC Category USNVC Ref USNVC Name Current likely OSM Tagging Extended tagging for phytosociology Remarks
Cultural Subtype CST007177 Pinus resinosa Forest Plantation landuse=forest Red Pine plantation, especially common in the Great Lakes region
Alliance A1499 Jack Pine - Pine - Oak Barrens Woodland Alliance landuse=forest Jack pine plantations established for Kirtland's Warbler habitat are especially common in the northern Great Lakes region (see diamond pattern of openings included in plantings)
Macrogroup M007 Longleaf Pine Woodland natural=wood Southeastern US, could be natural or planted in origin, forested community of concern by Longleaf Alliance
Macrogroup M305 Sweetgum - Loblolly Pine - Chinese Tallow Ruderal Forest landuse=forest common on lands managed for forest products in the Southeastern US, many of which are operated by commercial entities and known as Corporate forest or Private nonindustrial forest land, often enrolled in state "commercial forest" tax programs

Outline of suggested approach

It is suggested that the core tag plant_community=* only be used with terms which should be clear to all contributors. Thus they might comprise a dominant plant with the principle biome, as in plant_community=oak_woodland or plant_community=mesotrophic_grassland. Additional detail including technical phytosociological names or specific classifications can then be added using either adjectival tagging or name spacing of the plant_community=*: e.g., plant_community=alder_woodland alder_woodland=Salicion albae or plant_community:uk_nvc=W6a.

Guidebooks and reference works

Anyone contemplating this tagging approach is likely to be fairly experienced with plant identification. Typical reference works covering plant communities in NW Europe are listed below.

Related tags

Related projects