Last year in BIOL2010 I found myself really enjoying the keying we did based on plant leaves/seeds and especially the pressure of being timed. It was like a game to me to see if I was able to solve this puzzle of identification. At the same time I ended up taking Ecology the previous semester and remember how much of a hassle it was to identify plants in the field (with a handbook of nearly 30 pages) for a marked 5 page report. The classic “there has GOT to be a better way” came to me and I figured if we’ve had keys for decades upon decades to determine a plant species based on identify markers – there must be some sort of technology to make this easier in this day and age.
Of course, the second classic “There’s an app for that” came along just as soon as I thought this. A quick search in my phone’s Google App Store led me to Pl@ntNet. Unfortunately, I could no longer be an inventor of the revolutionary change in keying plant life – but now the struggle was hopefully over!
Technology is ever so unfortunately limited, and sometimes the hopes we have are squashed by the fact that magic does not exist. The app couldn’t just see a certain shade of green or spike on a leaf and tell me exactly where/when/how/why/and what type my plant was but it definitely was close to accurate often on all my practice attempts, giving me a drop down menu of possible species that seemed to often match closely if not be completely correct. I was impressed by the fact that this worked so well and at the very least existed as a beautiful blend of classic plant identification and the advent of technology that sits right in your pocket and has more knowledge than the undergrad piloting it. Yet truthfully, what impressed me even more that I didn’t realize until after coming across this app was what it provided on a larger scale. Sure, I could possibly have an easier time identifying plants and writing reports faster, but there was also an entire community at my fingertips that seemed so opposite to so much of academia.
The app wasn’t just smart because of the magic of wi-fi and circuits, but there were people who were initially identifying and creating a database for these plants in their region. More so, if the app ever got stuck on a plant it could be updated for individual review. Anywhere in the world now, people connected on this app would be able to review your picture and help with your identification. Compare that to being stuck on a plant and having nothing more than a textbook, a key, and whichever colleague was actually in the building the day you were this is a huge leap. An interconnected field of the plant biology community. The openness and built-in aspect of sharing really stood out to me compared to some things I’ve learned about the world of paywalls and journal articles; Where every great class I’ve had talked about open access and the power of sharing with the culture that is still all too slowly being promoted. Now there was an app that had this communication built in and promoted open-access work and cooperation from the start.
Overall, an idea I had to make my report writing life easier turned into a marvel of technology and open-access work when I found Pl@ntNet, and I’ve been able to find even more apps as I write this article. The world is opening up more and more and our scientific community can only benefit from it!
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time, hopefully with more apps in tow on both ends!
Check out this article for more amazing plant-identification apps: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/tools-and-accessories/the-best-apps-to-identify-unknown-plants-and-flowers/