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Physical Address:
Morrill Hall 105

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3010
University of Idaho
Moscow, ID 83844-3010

Phone: 208-885-6689

Email: vpresearch@uidaho.edu

Web: ORED

Map

Physical Address:

Morrill Hall Room 414
Moscow, ID  83844

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Dr., MS 3010
Moscow, ID  83844-3010

Phone: 208-885-6162

Email: ored-ora@uidaho.edu

Web: ORA Website

Map

Physical Address:

Morrill Hall Room 103
Moscow, ID  83843

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Dr., MS 3020
Moscow, ID  83844-3020

Phone: 208-885-6651

Fax: 208-885-4990

Email: osp@uidaho.edu

Web: OSP Website

Map

Physical Address:
Morrill Hall 103
Moscow, Idaho

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive
MS 3003
Moscow, ID 83844-3003

Jeremy Tamsen
Phone: 208-885-4550
Email: tamsen@uidaho.edu
Web: OTT Website

Map

Physical Address:
Water Center Suite 324
Boise, Idaho

Mailing Address:
322 E. Front St., Suite 324
Boise, ID 83702

Bringing Grasses to the Masses

New CNR smartphone app helps users identify Idaho’s grasses for education and land management

Justin Trujillo and his colleagues hiked for hours across Idaho’s sagebrush, woodlands and meadows, navigating steep, rocky slopes, waterways and other natural obstacles with photography equipment in hand.

They finally discovered what they were looking for: alpine timothy, a species of grass found only in the highest elevations of the Pacific Northwest. They took detailed close-up shots of the grass’ features before taking samples and heading home.

Trujillo, an instructor at University of Idaho’s Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences in the College of Natural Resources (CNR), along with undergraduate and graduate students, repeated this process for nearly 100 similar species across Idaho, eventually building a 30,000-image collection. Why?

“Grasses and grass-like plants are key to the productivity, function and diversity of Idaho's rangelands, wetlands and forests,” Trujillo said. “We developed an app, a book and other learning materials to help users identify, understand and manage these plants better.”

U of I’s Office of Technology Transfer recently signed a licensing agreement with Trujillo to distribute the app, named Idaho Grasses.

Trujillo, who also works in habitat restoration for the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District, developed the app for educational and professional uses.

“I highlighted the more common grasses I wanted people to learn more about,” Trujillo said. “Some of these grasses we want in our forests and rangelands, but there are some that can degrade the lands and sicken livestock and wildlife. The app helps promote an awareness and understanding of these positive and negative species so they can be properly managed.”

Idaho Grasses features nearly 400 of the top photos among Trujillo’s collection. Users can navigate to these images through 50 filters that illustrate and describe common plant characteristics. As the filters narrow down results, users find a shortlist of plants along with their images. The user can then tap on the most familiar image to identify the plant and learn about its features and functions in the environment.

“Say landowners want to know what grasses are on their new lands,” Trujillo said. “It’s a tool to get them started. If he or she finds an invasive grass species such as Medusahead, that person can contact their local U of I county weed Extension office about methods for removing those plants from their property.”

The app is also ideal for habitat restoration and raising awareness in communities. “Say a hiker goes out onto Bureau of Land Management property and notices an invasive grass,” Trujillo said. “They can use the app to let land managers know what they found.”

Trujillo also said the app is useful for students in natural resources management and botany programs.

“Graduate students, for example, often need to go into the field to identify grasses for their research, which is essential,” he said. “They need to know the correct species when gathering data, and they can narrow that down with the app’s built-in filter.”

Trujillo describes other functionality advantages embedded in the Idaho Grasses app.

“The app is offline, meaning you don’t need a wireless connection to use it,” Trujillo said. “Just refresh it before going out into the field. There are also no books to carry. All the information is in the app, and you can do keyword searches for plants by their scientific and common names. I also developed categories, which really narrows the results down.”

Trujillo says that he originally intended to develop only a book, titled “A Field Guide to Grasses and Grass-Like Plants of Idaho.” In 2016, Trujillo and his graduate advisor, Associate Professor Eva Strand, secured a $27,000 grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) to produce it, along with an additional $4,000 MILES (Managing Idaho’s Landscapes for Ecosystem Services) grant from Idaho EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) that helped cover travel-related expenses. ASPB later provided a $6,000 supplemental grant to develop an app based on the book.

To satisfy an outreach requirement on the ASPB grant, Trujillo developed a five-day, standardized training camp curriculum for high school students available to teachers across the state.

“We documented some of the most important native and non-native plants for Idaho, many of them occurring in Montana, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and California,” Trujillo said. “It was a fun project, and I look forward to continuing to add more species to the app based on suggestions from land managers and owners in Idaho.”

“It can be a challenge for educators to find resources that teach students how to identify these complex grass species,” Trujillo said. “We developed a lesson plan, field journal and important tools within our curriculum, like fill-in-the-blank exercises and dichotomous keys, to quickly help students and other users identify these plants and develop site descriptions.”

Trujillo began conceptualizing the app while producing the book. As he went from concept to development, he worked with students and peers to improve it.

“I would brainstorm with my fellow colleagues and students about the filter categories and get their feedback on picture clarity,” Trujillo said. “As the app came further along in development, we tested and perfected it.”

Strand, also in CNR’s Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences and co-author of the “Field Guide,” says the book and app have been a success.

“Many of the main government and state agencies in Idaho are using the book and app,” Strand said. “The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Natural Resources Conservation Service have all bought boxes of the book and are using the app as well.”

To date, users downloaded the Android and Apple versions of the app nearly 700 times. Trujillo also developed a Facebook page to build awareness and use of the app, book and curriculum. The page has more than 1,582 likes and 1,629 followers.

“We documented some of the most important native and non-native plants for Idaho, many of them occurring in Montana, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and California,” Trujillo said. “It was a fun project, and I look forward to continuing to add more species to the app based on suggestions from land managers and owners in Idaho.”

Learn more about the Idaho Grasses app for Apple and Android devices.

Article by Phillip Bogdan, Office of Research and Economic Development
Published in June 2020

Justin Trujillo
U of I Instructor Justin Trujillo walks through a field as he looks for species of grass to photograph. Images courtesy of Nolan Helmstetter.

Physical Address:
Morrill Hall 105

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3010
University of Idaho
Moscow, ID 83844-3010

Phone: 208-885-6689

Email: vpresearch@uidaho.edu

Web: ORED

Map

Physical Address:

Morrill Hall Room 414
Moscow, ID  83844

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Dr., MS 3010
Moscow, ID  83844-3010

Phone: 208-885-6162

Email: ored-ora@uidaho.edu

Web: ORA Website

Map

Physical Address:

Morrill Hall Room 103
Moscow, ID  83843

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Dr., MS 3020
Moscow, ID  83844-3020

Phone: 208-885-6651

Fax: 208-885-4990

Email: osp@uidaho.edu

Web: OSP Website

Map

Physical Address:
Morrill Hall 103
Moscow, Idaho

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive
MS 3003
Moscow, ID 83844-3003

Jeremy Tamsen
Phone: 208-885-4550
Email: tamsen@uidaho.edu
Web: OTT Website

Map

Physical Address:
Water Center Suite 324
Boise, Idaho

Mailing Address:
322 E. Front St., Suite 324
Boise, ID 83702