Botany? It’s all about app-lication…

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Nowadays, it seems that any­body with a ‘smart­phone’ can be a plant bio­lo­gist. Well, not quite – it takes years of ded­ic­ated study, etc to be able to claim that right. But, with such tech­no­logy to hand, almost any mem­ber of the pub­lic can do their bit to track the where­abouts of ‘prob­lem plants’ (a rather quaint euphem­ism for invas­ive, non-native plant spe­cies that pose a threat to indi­gen­ous wild­life) in the United Kingdom. The UK’s Environment Agency (part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA) and the University of Bristol have joined forces to help com­bat the spread of three par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic plants using the ‘PlantTracker’ app. The ‘Most Wanted’ trio are: Japanese knot­weed (Fallopia japon­ica), Himalayan bal­sam (Impatiens glandulifera) and float­ing penny­wort (Hydrocotyle ranun­culoides). And data on these plants is (sorry, are) import­ant because they pose a threat to biod­iversity, increase flood risk and affect the state of the water envir­on­ment, cost­ing the British eco­nomy a min­imum of £1.7 bil­lion per annum(!). The PlantTracker app, which is avail­able free from the iTunes App Store and Android Market, shows the user how to identify each spe­cies and enables the sub­mis­sion of ‘geo-located’ pic­tures so that the dis­tri­bu­tion and spread of these trouble­some botan­ics can be more accur­ately recor­ded. However, ini­tially the pro­ject is only being piloted in the Midlands (‘the tra­di­tional name for the area com­pris­ing cent­ral England’). Being a tad cyn­ical one might posit that – once rolled out UK-wide – the app will only record the trouble­some three­some in areas where there is mobile phone cov­er­age. So, an ideal strategy for a cun­ning mem­ber of this tri­um­vir­ate is to estab­lish itself in ‘mobile phone black­spots’ where it can live undetec­ted and unbothered by the new age of digital detect­ives. Whether the ‘app’ could even­tu­ally be used in the USA to plot the loc­a­tion – in cell phone-covered areas! – of H. ranun­culoides (which is known vari­ously ‘over there’ as float­ing penny­wort, float­ing marsh-pennywort, and water-pennywort), and whose status is lis­ted as endangered in sev­eral States, is not known ( to me…).

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

3 Responses

  1. Arthur says:

    Nigel: We have a sim­ilar devel­op­ing cap­ab­il­ity which can be viewed at the Center for Invasive Plant Management ( ). To date, not all states are par­ti­cip­at­ing. The sur­veil­lance and author­ity for invas­ive plant spe­cies is primar­ily del­eg­ated to the states. For the State of Washington, the cur­rent list can be seen at . It’s a very good “app” in field-use and for cre­at­ing biogeo­graph­ical data. The lim­it­ing step for us is which tele­com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­vider the user is sub­scribed to. As you men­tion — cov­er­age gaps. I under­stand there is another “app” under devel­op­ment which will provide data to the Burke Herbarium (University of Washington) for all Washington plants in addi­tion to the cur­rent record and held specimens.

  2. Abbie says:

    I like the idea of these pesky plants hid­ing out in mobile phone black­spots! Are you sure you can’t just use the GPS on your phone to record a sight­ing, then upload once you’re con­nec­ted to the internet?

  3. Nigel Chaffey says:

    Hi Arthur,
    Thank you for the transat­lantic dimen­sion.
    I won­der if we’re talk­ing ‘LeafSnap’ re Washington data..?

    Hi Abbie,
    I don’t know. Maybe a query for the ‘tech­no­Bots’..?

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