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What is PFAF?

PFAF, or Plants for a Future, is a database of plant information gathered from various historical and contemporary publications and with some original research by Ken Fern of PFAF. It has been under development since the early 90's, initially released as a Microsoft Access database and in recent years has been made available through the website It is a closed database edited exclusively by PFAF but is freely available to view online through their website, and generously released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license.

Why duplicate it?

The PFAF database is a truly incredible resource but the data it keeps on plants is limited to the areas the editorial team are interested in or able to cover. Worse, there are many places in which the data is contradictory, incorrect, confusing, or duplicated. We believe data as important as this should not just be free to access, but also be an open, collaboratively edited resource. Moreover, we believe that such a broad scope of data can only be successfully managed collectively without creating excessive pressure on one organisation to resolve all errors and update with all new relevant information.

What needs to be changed and transitioned?

Data irregularities

Species names

This description assumes knowledge of species naming conventions. Species names in PFAF do not provide a way to differentiate between a subspecies, variety or cultivar group. As such, the correct formatting could not be applied to the titles during import and require manual resolution. See the list of titles requiring correction. Some examples:

Finally, there appear to be some species records with just a genus name which should actually be genus records or notes about a group of hybrids within a genus.

Plant uses

Plant uses in PFAF are assigned only to the plant. In Practical Plants uses are assigned to a specific part of a plant. There was unfortunately no way to resolve this problem automatically, and so during the data import all uses were assigned to Unknown part. These uses need to be assigned to the correct plant part. Additionally, PFAF uses were in the categories edible, medicinal and other, whereas Practical Plants uses edible, medicinal and material. PFAF calls some things other uses which Practical Plants refers to as Functions. These should have all been automatically assigned during the import, but there may be an occasional irregularity which needs to be corrected.

PFAF Textual Notes

The textual data in the PFAF database is in a short note style and is not formatted with headers or broken into any predictable format, making it difficult to navigate and read. Eg. Here is the cultivation entry for Juglans regia.

Requires a deep well-drained loam[11] and a sunny position sheltered from strong winds. Prefers a slightly alkaline heavy loam but succeeds in most soils[1, 63]. The walnut tree is reported to tolerate an annual precipitation of 31 to 147cm, an annual temperature in the range of 7.0 to 21.1°C and a pH in the range of 4.5 to 8.2[269].

The dormant plant is very cold tolerant, tolerating temperatures down to about -27°C without serious damage, but the young spring growth is rather tender and can be damaged by late frosts[269]. Some late-leafing cultivars have been developed, these often avoid damage from spring frosts and can produce a better quality timber tree. The walnut tree is frequently cultivated for its edible seed in temperate zones of the world, there are many named varieties[63, 183]. Newer cultivars begin producing nuts in 5 - 6 years; by 7 - 8 years, they produce about 2.5 tons of nuts per hectare[269]. Orchards on relatively poor, unirrigated mountain soil report 1.5 - 2.25 tonnes per hectare, orchards in well cultivated valleys, 6.5 - 7.5 tonnes per hectare[269]. According to the Wealth of India, a fully grown individual can yield about 185 kg, but 37 kg is more likely[269]. Trees grow well in most areas of Britain but they often fail to fully ripen their fruits or their wood in our cooler and damper climate[63, 200], they prefer a more continental climate. There are some very fine trees in Cornwall[59]. Walnuts can produce large healthy trees in many parts of Britain, but seedling trees often do not fruit reliably. Some European varieties have been developed that succeed in colder areas[200]. Seedling trees are said to take from 6 to 15 years to come into fruit from seed[200], but these cultivars usually start cropping within 5 years. Plants produce a deep taproot and they are intolerant of root disturbance. Seedlings should be planted out into their permanent positions as soon as possible and given some protection for their first winter or two since they are somewhat tender when young. Flower initiation depends upon suitable conditions in the previous summer. The flowers and young growths can be destroyed by even short periods down to -2°c[63], but fortunately plants are usually late coming into leaf. Some cultivars are self-fertile, though it is generally best to grow at least two different cultivars to assist in cross-pollination. Any pruning should only be carried out in late summer to early autumn or when the plant is fully dormant otherwise wounds will bleed profusely and this will severely weaken the tree. Plants produce chemicals which can inhibit the growth of other plants. These chemicals are dissolved out of the leaves when it rains and are washed down to the ground below, reducing the growth of plants under the tree[18, 20, 159]. The roots also produce substances that are toxic to many plant species, especially apples (Malus species), members of the Ericaceae, Potentilla spp and the white pines (certain Pinus spp.)[200]. Trees have a dense canopy which tends to reduce plant growth below them[20]. All in all, not the best of companion trees, it is also suggested that the trees do not like growing together in clumps[37]. Trees are said to inhibit the growth of potatoes and tomatoes[18]. Hybridizes with J. nigra[149]. This species is notably susceptible to honey fungus[200].

The bruised leaves have a pleasant sweet though resinous smell[245].

Practical Plants style guidelines dictate that each topic have a relevant heading, and that the writing should be of a fuller, more informative style. As Practical Plants articles are long-form brevity is not a priority and care can be taken to explain data and concepts thoroughly. Since much of the information about a plant is already present in data, the text should serve to explain and provide context for the data, not simply restate it. Eg. The above could be reformatted as so.

@todo: provide example of rewritten PFAF notes!