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Errors in botanical surveying are a common problem. The presence of a species is easily overlooked, leading to false-absences; while misidentifications and other mistakes lead to false-positive observations. While it is common knowledge that these errors occur, there are few data that can be used to quantify and describe these errors. Here we characterise false-positive errors for a controlled set of surveys conducted as part of a field identification test of botanical skill. Surveys were conducted at sites with a verified list of vascular plant species. The candidates were asked to list all the species they could identify in a defined botanically rich area. They were told beforehand that their final score would be the sum of the correct species they listed, but false-positive errors counted against their overall grade. The number of errors varied considerably between people, some people create a high proportion of false-positive errors, but these are scattered across all skill levels. Therefore, a person’s ability to correctly identify a large number of species is not a safeguard against the generation of false-positive errors. There was no phylogenetic pattern to falsely observed species, however, rare species are more likely to be false-positive as are species from species rich genera. Raising the threshold for the acceptance of an observation reduced false-positive observations dramatically, but at the expense of more false negative errors. False-positive errors are higher in field surveying of plants than many people may appreciate. Greater stringency is required before accepting species as present at a site, particularly for rare species. Combining multiple surveys resolves the problem, but requires a considerable increase in effort to achieve the same sensitivity as a single survey. Therefore, other methods should be used to raise the threshold for the acceptance of a species. For example, digital data input systems that can verify, feedback and inform the user are likely to reduce false-positive errors significantly.