VASCAN functionalities

This post is also available in French.

Our Database of a vascular plants of Canada (VASCAN) is a bit over a year old now (launched on October 22, 2010) and the response has been great so far! The site is averaging 1,850 visits / 20,500 page views a month from over a 100 countries, and is used as a source for vernacular names in Wikipedia and as a tool in the horticultural sector. We thought this would be a good time to summarize some of the things you can do with VASCAN:

What is VASCAN?

You can read all about VASCAN in the about page. If you want a more visual explanation, here’s a presentation about VASCAN (also embedded at the end of this post).

Name search

You can search for any scientific or vernacular name by using the name search. The full search allows you to search on parts of names (starting from the beginning, e.g. Carex ag) and the dropdown box will offer suggestions and provide shortcuts to name pages.


Name pages

A name page interprets the scientific or vernacular name provided in the URL (e.g. saccharum) and shows
relevant information if the name has been found. The system will automatically forward unique synonym and vernacular names to the accepted taxon name, displaying more relevant information (e.g. Acer saccharum subsp. saccharum or Sugar maple), but this functionality can be turned off by appending “?redirect=no” to the link. If a name is linked to multiple taxa, a disambiguation page will be shown (e.g. white maple or Solanum nigrum).

You can use name pages to create dynamic links in your spreadsheet, database or website. Just concatenate “” with the name. Please exclude the author and provide the infrageneric or infraspecific rank (“sect.” or “subsp.”) in the name if applicable. It is not necessary to capitalize names correctly or encode space characters as “%20”. An example of a formula you can use in Excel to create links to VASCAN is:

= HYPERLINK("" & A2, A2)


Checklist builder

Interested to know which trees are native in Newfoundland, which genera are introduced in all of the prairies or which Salix species occur in British Columbia, but not in the rest of Canada? You can find it out with the checklist builder, which allows you to combine a set of selection criteria (taxonomic group, habit, distribution, status or a combination of these) and display criteria (ranks to include, sort preference) to create your own customized checklist.


Once your happy with the result you can download the checklist as a simple tab delimited text file or as a standardized Darwin Core archive following the GBIF Global Names Architecture Profile. The latter one also includes the vernacular names and synonyms.

The data are there to be used, which is why we licensed them under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, allowing you to build upon our work (read more about it here). You can also download the full database as a Darwin Core archive.


If you discover an issue with the data or interface, or you want to send a suggestion, you can do so by clicking the feedback button on the right of every page. So far, the response has been amazing: users have submitted over 700 suggestions for correction, improving the overall quality of the database. All issues are recorded in our public Google Code issue tracker, and we take each one into consideration. You can read more about it here and here.


And that pretty much sums it up. If you want an overview of the data and functionality, we gave a VASCAN demonstration at the Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria meeting in Philadelphia, June 2011, which is embedded below. Let us know what you think!