24 Jul 2014

Flora Finder App for Plant Identification

From Our Changing World, 9:06 pm on 24 July 2014

So you’re out on a walk and want to find out what a plant is, but don’t have an identification guide to hand. Now, all you need to do is whip out your iPhone or iPad, take a photo and the Flora Finder app will help you find the best match.

The Flora Finder app is an electronic field guide, and it is the brainchild of University of Otago botanist Janice Lord.

‘It came out of conversations about how to bring plants to people who haven’t had any biological training’ says Janice. ‘But the other inspiration was that when I was an undergraduate student and I had to do vegetation surveys I fantasised about having a machine that you could point at a plant and you push a button and it’ll tell you what it is.’

Flora Finder app finding a match for a photo of a kowhai leafThe app was developed in association with Otago Innovation, the University of Otago Technology Transfer Team which looks for commercialisation opportunities for ideas coming out of University of Otago departments.

Graham Strong from Otago Innovation says ‘What we’ve done with Flora Finder is that we’ve taken unique content about native plants [from the Botany Department] and by adding this feature of being able to photograph a leaf to help you identify the plant it’s really added a whole new level of discovery for people when it comes to discovering New Zealand native plants.’

The technical side of creating the app fell to company MEA Mobile, a New Zealand company that specialises in app development. Director Rod Macfarlane explains that to get the app to find a match for a photo taken in the field ‘we had to use some recognition technology to try and identify a real world object against a database that the Botany Department provided to us.’

The Flora Finder app currently identifies 87 common New Zealand native trees and shrubs. ‘We’ve picked trees that occur up and down New Zealand’ says Janice. If you can’t find a match the app allows you to email your photo to the Department of Botany who will get back to you with an identification.

Alison Ballance saw the app being demonstrated at the Bioblitz held in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens during the International Science Festival, and it was generating lots of interest. One first-timer user commented ‘I could become addicted to this!’

Janice Lord believes the basic design of the app could be used to create Flora Finders for other countries.

‘I can see it used around the world, the same concept, simply because people are interested in plants but they don’t know where to start’ says Janice.

The Flora Finder app is available to buy in the iTunes store. Janice hopes to add about 20 more species to the app in the next month, and there are plans to expand the app to Android smart phones.