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We have had a couple of questions in the last few weeks that are about plant biology more than they are related to gardening. Should these questions be allowed or are they off topic?

Here are the questions I've noticed

  • On a related note, folks, the Biology exchange site is just about to go into private beta. Be quick to hop on for the ride before it's full! I'd estimate 48 hours before launch. – Lisa Dec 8 '11 at 5:07
  • Typically sites launch on Tuesday or Wednesday...so there are probably a few days... – wax eagle Dec 8 '11 at 13:09
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From the /faq page: "Gardening and Landscaping - Stack Exchange is for gardeners and landscapers." We're not a community for biologists/botanists. While it's true that we have plants in common and that gardeners are reasonably familiar with the basics of plant biology, that is not our expertise.

The StackExchange network of sites is built upon the idea that each community has its own pool of experts and a reasonably scoped topic (i.e. it's not all encompassing). I strongly oppose the idea that we need to find a home for each and every question until a proposal can take off on Area51. The world has a lot of questions already; what it needs is more answers. Until there's a place that can actually provide those answers, the questions ought to wait.

One of the hallmarks of a good online community is a community that knows its limits. Our expertise is gardening, not botany. To claim otherwise would be misleading and a gross disservice to our users. Occasionally, you might find some deep biology creeping into answers tangentially, solely due to the answerer's knowledge of the subject or interest in it, and that is perfectly fine. However, biology/botany shouldn't be the focus of questions.

Just to play the devil's advocate here, let's assume that such questions were allowed here. Then

  • We'll have questions that languish here without answers, because there aren't enough people knowledgeable to answer it.
  • Unanswered questions will only plummet our %answered metric. Who wants to visit a site that has only about 60% answered? That doesn't look like a site that has experts to me...
  • We might scare away potential users who're interested in gardening or are experts in gardening, because they might think the focus is botanical science, which might be out of their reach.
  • We'll have lot of guess-work answers quoting their high-school biology knowledge, which will most likely be inadequate for serious questions.

Seemingly simple questions (e.g. "How do plants produce food?") have very deep scientific significance which has required years of research to even peck at the tip, some Nobel prize winners, and are still the focus of active research. Those should be best left to a dedicated site. If we're going to water down the answers to a very basic, hand waving explanation, then Wikipedia or Google should be your friend until the biology site launches.

I propose that such questions be deemed off-topic.

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    i.imgur.com/QRydH.jpg – Ambo100 Nov 14 '11 at 18:10
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    I dunno. The question today, re evergreens, seemed awfully close to the edge. A good answer, IMO, would probably include or at least infer some guidance on care of them, which would be back on topic. So I wonder if the criterion should not be on the question, per se, but rather on the content of likely answers. This is obviously hard to predict in theory, but I think it's not too bad in practice, because the moderators and closers are also subject-matter experts. – Ed Staub Nov 14 '11 at 20:32
  • @EdStaub: To me the evergreen question seemed like a pure plant biology question. But I agree with your principle that good answers would fall within the scope of gardening & landscaping. In this case, I think the question would need to be rescoped to having something to do with gardening instead of curiosity about general plant biology. E.g. "Which evergreens drop the fewest leaves? Why do they keep their leaves? Are there conditions I can create to encourage less leaf drop? I want to plant some conifers but want to avoid having to clean up needles in my USDA zone 4 backyard." – bstpierre Nov 16 '11 at 15:22
  • I'd be ok with this if the convention is that if it's plausible that their intent was within scope, to first ping the user (by comment) to rescope, and then close a day later if it's still apparently a bio question. Closing is very abrupt and off-putting - let's keep folks if we can. – Ed Staub Nov 16 '11 at 15:32
  • @EdStaub You can see from the comments under the question that I did inform him that it was off-topic. The closure was 18 hours and a few off-topic flags + 4 downvotes later. That's good enough indication that the community doesn't welcome it. I invited the OP to a discussion here and he did post an answer (self deleted) insisting that this site be used for some biology questions until a botany site is launched. I guess the OP eventually agreed after I posted this answer that such questions might do more harm than good. – Lorem Ipsum Nov 16 '11 at 15:42
  • Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you handled this one poorly. – Ed Staub Nov 16 '11 at 16:11
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Per yoda's pasted description of G&L scope, I think not. And I concur with yoda's reasoning too.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a user editing their question to turn it into a question about gardening. So, with regard to the "pith" question, it must be ensured that "how it is useful to them" is in the context of survival in a gardening/landscaping context. There would be another way to ask the question that the user is actually asking. Eg. "Should I favour plants containing pith to plant in my climate?" or "I have access to a range of free tracheophytes. What should I consider before choosing where, when and how to transplant them into my garden in my climate?" or something along these lines.

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