7 Jun 2018

NZ native trees? There's an app for that

From Afternoons, 1:22 pm on 7 June 2018

You can now identify New Zealand's native shrubs, ferns and trees on the go thanks to the free app NZ Tree, developed at Auckland University of Technology.

There are similar apps overseas, but AUT professor Len Gillman reckons this one is the best in the world.

Matagouri (aka wild Irishman / Discaria toumatou)

Matagouri (aka wild Irishman / Discaria toumatou) Photo: Public domain

NZ Trees app

NZ Trees app Photo: Supplied

App users can identify the native tree (shrub, fern or palm) they're looking at by matching its foliage, flowers or bark with simple picture icons on a menu, Gillman says.

"You click on icons that lead you to a range of trees that have those features – then you can eliminate [what it isn't] with more refined pictures of trees and bark, etc."

Once you've identified your tree, the app will tell you, amongst other things, its English, Māori and Latin names and whether or not it's poisonous.

It was a big challenge for the app creators to devise something that would make sense both to someone who knows nothing about botany and a professional botanist, he says.

The picture icons enabled the app creators to get around using specialised words like 'variegated' (exhibiting different colours) or 'decussate' (leaves on a stem in opposite pairs at right angles to those above or below).

Most New Zealand trees are found nowhere else in the world, Gillman says.

His personal favourite is Raukaua (aka Raukaua edgerleyi) – a citrus-scented plant commonly found in the central North Island. 

"What's special about New Zealand is we've got very unique plants."

Head of AUT School of Science's Len Gillman with his favourite NZ native Raukaua (aka Raukaua edgerleyi)

Head of AUT School of Science's Len Gillman with his favourite NZ native Raukaua (aka Raukaua edgerleyi) Photo: Auckland University of Technology / L Henry

NZ Tree was developed by the AUT's School of Science in collaboration with the Centre for Learning and Teaching and The App Lab.

You can find the app by searching for 'NZ Tree' or 'New Zealand Tree' wherever you get apps.