TheRedandBlack: New app helps hikers identify native plant names

While on the nature ramble hike, Avis Winfield spots a spider at the Botanical Gardens in Athens, Ga. on Aug. 22, 2013. Photo by Jane Ellyn Hardy

Originally posted to The Red and Black on March 21, 2014

By Jeanette Kazmierczak

Imagine hiking in the woods, falling down and landing in what could be suspected as a giant patch of poison ivy. The University of Georgia Extension may be able to help clear up uncertainties with its first app for Apple and Android products — Native Plants of North Georgia.

The idea and information for the app were taken from a pocket-sized flipbook compiled by Mickey Cummings, an extension county coordinator for Union County, based on the questions hikers ask each year.

“People every year, really starting toward late March into probably the middle part of the summer — people will pull a bloom off of a plant they found or bring a picture of it and bring it to me asking me to identify it,” he said. “So over the years we’ve just acquired a lot of photographs.”

He said his own love of plants came from his grandmother, who taught him how to identify and use plants native to Georgia.

She told him she almost died when his uncle was born, but her husband gave her an herbal tea recommended by a Native American and after six months she recovered.

“The lady who was supposed to die lived another 60 years after that,” Cummings said. “That kind of inspired me to fall in love with plants.”

Brian Watson, the IT associate director for UGA Extension, said this app was a good way to start producing mobile content, which was becoming more frequently requested by faculty members.

The app was developed in collaboration with Southern Regional Extension Forestry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and is free to download for both platforms.

“The mission of cooperative extension, which this really falls under, is to take research-based, unbiased information that’s generated here at the university and put that out into the hands of the citizens of Georgia,” Watson said. “We try to do that as cost-effectively as we can. So in this case we had money to cover the actual development costs through grant funds and other funds, so there really was no reason [to charge for the app].”

For Benaiah Pitts, a mobile application developer for SREF, she said this was the first app she had made.

She said figuring out how to make content compatible for both Apple and Android, which operate differently, was a challenge, but was a good learning opportunity.

She also said she learned from the content she worked with during the process of putting the app together.

“Agriculture is not my background, so while I wasn’t involved in the research in what gets said for each plant just going through the content was interesting,” she said. “Like, I didn’t know that some of these things were actually native to the area. Ginseng was in there, and I didn’t know that.”

The next project she said she is working on is a mobile version of the Service Forester’s Handbook for SREF.

Cummings said he hopes the app inspires people to look beyond the scientific name of the plants they are curious about and learn more about their potential uses.

“We have an ever-shrinking natural biodiversity,” he said. “If we don’t preserve the plants that we have out there until we know a cure for cancer or a cure for AIDS or whatever — maybe that’s over simplifying it. But if we continue to lose plants at the rate we’re losing them now, (it is) possible that we lose something that could be of great benefit to mankind.

, ,

Comments are closed.