Archive for the ‘Plant Identification’ category

Two New Tree Identification Apps

January 8, 2012

More and more smartphone apps are being written about plant identification and the public is looking for them so they can use their smartphones and tablets in the field instead of bulky manuals. Two new apps for the iPhone are about tree idenfication, one from the Arbor Day Foundation called What tree is that? (also available to use on their website) and another one called TreeID by MEDL mobile and created by Jason M. Siniscalchi, PhD. Both apps are good but they differ by the types of keys they use.

“What tree is that?” is a dichotomous key (asking a series of questions to narrow down the choice) as seen below.  There is a separate glossary with some illustrations as well as illustrations that accompany the key choices.

After the species is keyed down to the final choice the app shows a drawing of the branches with leaves and fruits plus some natural history information. See below for white ash. You can see the full list of trees included in case you think your species may not be in the key. The My Trees tab allows you to choose to post the location of your tree which helps in their creation of a crowd-sourced tree database.

TreeID is a random access key that allows you to use any of the 31 plant characters available about the tree.  Below is a what their key looks like. Each character has an illustrated glossary (you click on the question mark) that you can use to see what the character choices look like, a nice feature.

When a tree is identified it shows an infomation-rich page about the tree that includes a range map and photos of the leaf (many with fall color) bark and flowers and/or fruit. It also shows the silhouette of the tree architecture which is handy.

I have not tried these apps in the field to any extent and field testing them will be the key to their usefulness.  They look promising and I would recommend getting both of them to use since they approach identification in different ways.  If you happen to use them, leave a comment in our comments section about your experience. We look forward to more of these apps, especially of groups like ferns, fern allies, and orchids that are well defined and popular with many people. Dick Mitchell produced a fern key for computers many years ago.  Something like that is ripe for turning into an app. For more information on other Apple plant ID apps CLICK HERE for an earlier post – Steve Young


Flora Novae Angliae – published!

November 8, 2011

Arthur Haines’s Flora Novae Angliae (A manual for the identification of native and naturalized tracheophytes of New England) has been published. This work is one of the most important floristic works covering New England to ever be published. Although not covering New York this book will be still prove extremely useful in New York due to the similarity of the flora between the two regions. It will provide New York botanists with a much needed modern treatment of tracheophytes of the region and is a must have publication. Thank you Arthur for all your hard work! For detail see this link.

Video: Using Keys to Identify Plants

September 5, 2011

I recently came across a website called by Angelyn Whitmeyer from North Carolina that contains resources and tips for identifying plants.  One of the videos is below:

CLICK HERE to see the full list of videos and the website.

This is a good website for beginners and contains useful information on plant identification.  Check it out and let others know what you think in the comments section. – Steve Young

Another Test of Leafsnap Tree Identification App

June 3, 2011

In a recent post we tested the new tree identification Apple app Leafsnap with 5 trees and it was right on two of them. Today we collected more species and tested it again.  Here are the results with the number signifying the position of the guess.

1. American elm – 9. Second tree – 7.

2. Scarlet Oak – 1.

3. Swamp white oak – 1.

4. Red oak – 1.  Second tree – 8.

5. White ash – 15.

6. Northern catalpa – 4.

7. White oak – 1.

8. Shadbush – 8.

9. Bigtooth aspen – 1.

10. Red maple – 3

11. Black oak – 5

12. Quaking aspen – 20.

13. Russian elm – 2.

13. Black locust – 4.

14. Black cherry – 8.

15. Box elder maple – 3.

16. White mulberry – 2.

17. Norway maple – 4.

18. Honey locust – 1.

A third of the trees were guessed right but the majority were misidentified, some of them badly. We can see why it might misidentify oaks because of the variety of shapes from tree to tree and on large and small trees. It seemed weird that it would miss easy ones like red, box elder, and Norway maple and quaking aspen, some of our most common trees. As an accurate way to identify trees we don’t think this app is quite ready for prime time.

Leafsnap iPhone/iPod Touch App for Identifying Trees

May 8, 2011

Many years in development, the leaf identification app Leafsnap is finally available for the iPhone and iPod touch with camera and wifi connection. It will be interesting to see how it will be integrated into dendrology and other flora classes. See the YouTube video below to see how it works.  Are the graminoids next?

How to Identify Lesser Celandine, An Invasive Exotic Plant

April 26, 2011

This invasive plant can take over a floodplain understory and although the yellow masses of flowers may look pretty, it should be removed if possible. It is blooming now (late April and early May) so keep a lookout for it.

Pixies: A Sure Sign of Spring on Long Island

April 16, 2011

Entry and photos by Steve Young.

Mid-April is the flowering time of the rare Pixiemoss, Pyxidanthera barbulata. In New York there are only two locations, on Long Island, but only one of them has a significant number of plants. This tiny plant grows in low clumps on the ground in open grassland areas of pitch pine-oak woods.  It is in the Diapensia family with a close relative, Diapensia lapponica var. lapponica, that grows in the alpine areas of the Adirondacks. Long Island is at the northern edge of the range of Pyxidanthera, a coastal plant ranging from Long Island south to South Carolina, except for Maryland and Delaware. The Adirondacks and White Mountains are at the southern range of the mostly Canadian plant Diapensia. Close cousins that will never meet!

Click on the photos below for a larger version.

In its habitat a clump of Pixies could be mistaken for an open area of white pebbles or even a small mound of snow.

Here is a closer view of a clump of the tightly-packed white flowers.

You can see how small the flowers are here but there are a lot of them.

Diapensia flowers are on flower stalks but Pixie flowers are sessile and close to the ground. Their flat anthers have two parallel anther sacs on top.

These plants are in bud and show the tiny moss-like leaves that are widest above the middle and have a sharp tip. Without flowers or fruits they could be mistaken for a clump of moss.

Report: Researchers Say Children Need Green Plant Interventions

April 11, 2011

This is an article from the Green Local 175 in Rome/Utica:

Helsinki, Finland (SPX) Apr 5, 2011

Could “interventions” bring children closer to nature? Researchers in Finland think so. A new study published in HortTechnology compares urban and rural children’s relationships with plants and recommends horticultural interventions, especially for urban children. In Finland, a country famous for its forests and wilderness, researchers Taina Laaksoharju from the Department of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Helsinki and Erja Rappe of The Martha Association teamed up to investigate the role of vegetation in the lives of urban and rural children. “We were interested in finding out if it is true that children are not interested in plants or playing outdoors”, they noted. The study examined the relationships of 9- and 10-year-old Finnish school children to the environment and plants. Using a questionnaire of structured and open-ended questions, the researchers focused on two comparisons: children’s relationships with nature in rural and urban neighborhoods, and preferences for plants among boys and girls. 76 children-42 in the Helsinki suburb area and 34 in a rural area-participated in the study.

Results suggested that children living in rural surroundings had closer contact with nature than their urban counterparts. For example, more rural children considered people to be “part of nature” than did urban children. The researchers noted that, like children in other Western countries, Finnish children may be in danger of losing direct contact with the natural environment. “This suggests that further research is essential to understand children’s experiences if we are to enhance the crucial role of the environment in their lives”, they wrote. The children’s answers indicated that natural areas are important arenas for children’s free play and socializing. “In the suburbs, closer connections to nature are rare; interventions in schools, especially outdoor horticultural ones, can help children to build their relationship to vegetation.” The research also showed significant differences in the ways boys and girl experience green plants. Girls were more interested in plants in general, and were more eager to learn about plants than were the boys. Boys saw themselves as more independent of nature; more than 30% of the boys said that they could live without vegetation. Boys wrote that plants are meaningful mainly for nutrition and general living conditions, whereas girls appreciated the beauty of flowers and plants.

Laaksoharju and Rappe included recommendations for delivery of horticultural lessons based on remarks from the 9- and 10-year-old boys, who said that they did not like lectures, but enjoyed working with plants. “Learning by doing in an informal learning environment suits the kinesthetic boys better than sitting at a desk listening to a teacher”, they said. “Horticultural interventions can be effective starting points to add to children’s knowledge, affection, and interest toward greenery, but it is highly recommended that they take place outdoors rather than indoors.” The complete study and abstract are available at :

The New York Flora Association supports any program that will get kids out into nature to learn plants. Let us know if you are aware of any in New York and we will post them.

The History of High School Botany Education in America

March 8, 2011

Margaret Conover, a botanist from SUNY Stony Brook, has written an interesting overview of how botany has been taught in American high schools from 1800 to the present.  She states that just over 100 years ago nearly all high-school students studied botany for a full year and emphasis was placed on identifying local flora.

Later, the “Golden Age of Botany Teaching” and the nature study movement of the early 1900s had students studying all aspects of plants in nature. The state Board of Regents even had a botany exam (which you can take yourself on page 4 of her article).What happened to this emphasis on botany in high schools? Read her article and you will find out why it is so different today.  Why a student who omits the answer to every plant related question on the Living Environments Regents Exam could still receive a passing grade of 80% and what the forces are that have led to the decline of botany as a subject in high school.

She ends with a note of hope that people are working to cure the “plant blindness” that pervades high-school biology education. To read the full article from the Long Island Botanical Society newsletter CLICK HERE.

Marielle Anzelone teaches high schoolers about plants in the Bronx. Photo

Wildflowers of Central New York Video

February 26, 2011

This is a simple slideshow of common wildflowers with birds singing in the background.  The photographer needs to work on his focus but it’s nice to see these in the winter and anticipate things to come.  Try to guess what they are as they come up (don’t look at the caption!).