Flora & Fauna Databases

The following databases are the best online sources we know for researching native plants, invasive plants, or various types of fauna from butterflies to birds.

Plant References: Identification, Characteristics, and Range


This Atlas from the Biota of North America Program (BONAP) offers comprehensive range maps for all of the native and naturalized plants in the United States and Canada. The color-coded maps are accurate to the county level, and indicate whether a species is present or not, native or exotic, and if it is rare. This is the best resource for researching the “native-ness” and/ or geographic occurrence of a certain species.

Go Botany Simple ID Key image.

This site from the Native Plant Trust is the pre-eminent resource for identifying any vascular plant found in New England. The searchable database includes comprehensive plant keys for identifying a species based on a variety of features, from growth form to flower shape to fruit type, with photos that document all of these features. Species pages include New England-centric distribution maps and valuable notes on common look-a-likes. Don’t forget to use their ‘Ask the Botanist’ portal for expert insight into your plant ID queries.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Logo.

This database includes over 13,000 vascular plants native to the United States and Canada. Each species page has detailed descriptions of its typical habitat, use by wildlife, propagation methods, and more, as well as a gallery of plant images. It is also searchable for selecting plants, with filters for state and plant characteristics such as growth habit, bloom color and time, and light requirements.  Since it includes everything from endangered orchids to common (native) garden weeds, this is a valuable resource for gardeners and naturalists alike.

Missouri Botanical Garden logo.

This database is focused on plants used in horticulture, both native and non-native, and includes over 7,000 species. Uniquely, it has information on many popular cultivars, including about how they were originally propagated (i.e. the parentage of a hybrid plant), details which are often not readily available. Making it especially useful, each species page has a valuable in-depth description of the plant’s noteworthy characteristics, culture requirements, and suggestions for use in a landscape setting. In addition to searching for information by species, plant selection searches can be filtered using standard criteria like bloom time, maintenance needs, and moisture requirements.

USDA PLANTS Database masthead.

This site provides standardized data about all the plant species, both native and exotic, found in the United State and its territories. Unique among these databases, it includes mosses, liverworts, and other non-vascular plants. Some species have Fact Sheets and Plant Guides available as PDF downloads. (You can find them in the “General Information” box.) These are especially valuable for their detailed descriptions, including ethnobotanical, ecological, and horticultural information pertinent to the species.

Plant Selection for Landscape Use

Polly Hill Arboretum logo.

This guide from the Polly Hill Arboretum is geared to those gardening on the Cape, Islands, and other coastal areas, but its recommendations are broadly applicable to southeastern Massachusetts. It includes both native and non-native garden plants—remember to select BOTH “MV native” and “US Native” to get a comprehensive list of native options. Many useful filter criteria are built into this guide, including highly specific categories like “salt spray tolerant” and “acid soil tolerant,” as well as the ever helpful “rabbit resistant.”

National Audubon Society Native Plants Database.

This database is foremost a plant selection tool, aimed at promoting the creation of bird habitat in home landscapes. It offers each user a recommended plant list for their ZIP code, which can then be narrowed down using filters such as “type of bird attracted.” This is a good resource for anyone new to gardening with native plants. Look first at the plants appearing in the “Best Results” tab, which is curated to include garden-adapted plants with some level of commercial availability.

Image from Garden Plant Finder webpage.

Geared for gardeners in New England, this database includes primarily (but not entirely) plants native to the Northeastern U.S. Plants can be sorted by ecoregion, basic growing conditions, ornamental attributes, and wildlife value. Some cultivars are listed. Many of the species’ entries feature high quality images of the plant, especially in fruit and flower. Descriptions are brief but informative.

Invasive Plants and Their Management

Invasive Plant Atlas Logo

This Atlas is a comprehensive reference on all the plants species documented to be invasive somewhere in the United States. Each species page includes a county-level range map showing where the plant has been reported to be invasive, along with a detailed plant description and helpful photos. The plant lists unfortunately can’t be sorted by region— to start learning about invasive terrestrial species in Massachusetts, this brief primer on Massachusetts Invasive Plants covers some of the species.

Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List Title Page.

Our state government prohibits the importation, sale, trade, and distribution of plants determined to be invasive in Massachusetts. Regulated by the Department of Agricultural Resources, this ban means it is illegal to sell or buy these species in the state, import them from other states, or to distribute them to others in any form. It includes all cultivars, varieties, and hybrids of the species listed. Check this page to see which plants are prohibited and read frequently asked questions about the list.

Vermont Invasives Logo

This is best regional resource for identifying, learning details about, and, managing common invasive species. Not every plant of concern in Massachusetts is covered here, but many of them are. Look for the buttons labeled ‘Fact Sheet’ and ‘Treatment’ at the top right of many of the species pages. Both are valuable. ‘Treatment’ links to a PDF with detailed guidelines for how best to control it, including both manual and chemical methods, as well as recommendations on timing treatments to maximize their effectiveness.

Fauna Databases

Cornell Lab of Ornithology logo.

This site is the most comprehensive and accessible guide to the birds of North America. It includes everything from tips for identification to important details on the life cycle and habitat needs of a bird species, as well as its typical breeding and non-breeding ranges. Each species profile also has a selection of beautiful photographs, and valuable audio and video recordings of bird calls and other distinctive behaviors.

Butterfly Atlas image.

This Atlas developed by Mass Audubon offers valuable information on the life cycles, preferred habitat, and larval host plants of the butterflies found in Massachusetts. It was compiled after a statewide butterfly survey was conducted in the late 1980s, and includes data collected during that project, including maps pinpointing the areas of the state where each species was documented.

Massachusetts Butterfly Club logo.

This site from the Massachusetts Butterfly Club is a good resource for identifying all of the common species of butterflies found in the state. Each species profile includes close-up photos showing the adult and larval forms from multiple angles. Any two species may be compared in “Side-by-Side Mode,” a tool that is quite helpful for distinguishing between similar butterflies.

Bug Guide logo.

This site from Iowa State University is a citizen science initiative dedicated to gathering data on arthropods of all kinds. Arthropods comprise the most species-rich phylum of animals—everything from crustaceans, to spiders, insects, and centipedes. The catalog of images in this database is browsable within the taxonomic hierarchy, which can be helpful for narrowing down the identity of an unknown “bug” to the order or family level, if not always to the exact species. Don’t forget to check the ‘Info’ tab as you browse; it offers a more detailed description of whichever group or species is selected in the Guide.