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Discover Idaho’s Wildflowers with New App

University of Idaho’s Stillinger Herbarium joins Northwest partners to make plant information available to the public

By Tara Roberts
Images courtesy Dave Tank

Whether an amateur botanist who’s spotted a rare wild orchid or a professional biologist studying plant diversity, Idaho wildflower enthusiasts have a new tool to help them identify and study the state’s flora.

The University of Idaho’s Stillinger Herbarium, the University of Washington’s Herbarium at the Burke Museum and Idaho State University’s Ray J. Davis Herbarium have partnered with High Country Apps to create the “Idaho Wildflowers” app, now available for iOS, Android and Kindle devices.

The app taps into the vast knowledge generated by the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, which brings together 33 regional herbaria to create an online database of more than 2.4 million plant specimens.

“The point of the database is to share knowledge with people,” says Dave Tank, a UI associate professor of biology and director of the Stillinger Herbarium.

“Idaho Wildflowers” puts that knowledge directly into people’s hands as they explore the state. The app includes profiles of more than 800 Idaho flower species, including close-up photographs and scientifically detailed, up-to-date descriptions of the species’ characteristics and known distributions.

The app’s identification tool allows users to easily enter the characteristics of an unidentified flower and discover what species it is.

Wildflowers Statewide – For the First Time

Cusick’s Paintbrush field, Payette National Forest, northwest of Council, Idaho

“Idaho Wildflowers” provides access to information on the breadth of Idaho’s flowers all in one place for the first time, Tank says. Because of the state’s diverse landscapes, no single reference book includes all the information included in the app.

“Idaho has a unique flora. We have influences from the Pacific Northwest in north Idaho, with a maritime climate and deep, dark forests. In the southeast we have all the influences from the Rocky Mountains. In the intermountain region we have influences from the Great Basin,” Tank says.

“For amateur and professional botanists, it’s always been a struggle. ‘Where am I in the state, what habitat am I am, what book do I need?’ This is neat in that it covers the whole state.”

Behind-the-Scenes Research

Tank’s main role in the project was providing data and helping decide which species to include – Stillinger has more than 3,000 Idaho flower specimens, but the app narrows the scope down to more commonly found species.

Tank also helped edit and write guides included in the app about Idaho’s climate, geography and habitats; the history of plant collecting in Idaho; and suggested places people can “go to botanize” and look for wildflowers.

And while the app is directed primarily at experienced professional and amateur botanists, it also includes information for people seeking to become familiar with botany, such as a glossary and diagrams of flower and leaf morphology.

Herbaria have been collecting and preserving plant specimens for generations, but projects like the “Idaho Wildflowers” app and the consortium database make those specimens more useful to researchers and the general public alike – and one that spans beyond Idaho.

“When you put all your data together, you get a much better picture of the entire region,” Tank says. “Plants don’t follow state boundaries.”

The Idaho Wildflowers App is available on Apple and Google app stores for $7.99.

A portion of revenues from the app supports conservation and botanical exploration in the region.


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