New NW wildflower field guide for iPhones
By Daniel Matthews
Editor’s note: Renowned Northwest naturalist Daniel Mathews, author of Cascade-Olympic Natural History, recently released a new field guide with a twist — “Northwest Mountain Wildflowers” isn’t the trailside book you might expect, but an iPhone app. Interested in this new format for field guides, we asked him to share some information on what the app does, what his motivations were in creating an electronic guide and whether or not he thinks there are any drawbacks to this technology.
I have released a field guide for iPhone and iPod touch, called Northwest Mountain Wildflowers, based on my books Cascade-Olympic Natural History and Rocky Mountain Natural History. It covers 514 species, illustrated with more than 830 photos, and it weighs nothing, or at least adds nothing to the weight of your mobile device if you’re carrying one.
It does not require being online or on a cell network, as the content is contained in memory, and it works just the same on iPod touch as on iPhone. (When the user does happen to be connected, they can use direct links from species pages to the same species in EFlora BC and the Washington herbarium website.)
Finding the page you want should usually be faster than in book form. You can search by any combination of criteria, and in the index you can choose whether you look at Latin names (including synonyms), common names (including several alternates), or Latin and Common mixed together.
The range covered is similar to Hitchcock and Cronquist, but slightly greater northward and eastward. I.e., it reaches all of Vancouver Island, Jasper National Park, and the Wind River Range at the corners. But it is about mountain species, omitting seashore and steppe plants except for some that are notable in montane steppe settings.
The 514 species are herbs, plus a few subshrubs small enough to be mistaken for herbs. I plan to release a companion app covering the trees and shrubs soon.
I was immediately excited about compactness and weightlessness as advantages of an app over a book, and I soon got even more excited about the sheer number of great color photos I could add without adding to production cost or weight. I owe a lot to the generosity of photographers who post photos on the web, and gave me permission to use them. The multi-path search functions are also great, for identifying flowers. And it’s easier to do updates and corrections.
On the downside, I’m somewhat chagrined at luring people into focusing on electronic devices in the backcountry. Issues with battery life may be a mixed blessing in that regard: I hope that my readers will skip most other uses of their phone (and turn it all the way off) while backpacking because they want to save their battery for plants and for using their GPS to avoid getting lost. Alternatively, they may carry solar chargers.
The software was written by Chris Leger, who has already done a number of wildflower apps under the name Earthrover Software. From what I have seen, they all run very nicely, with great flexibility and few crashes. In Chris’s “day job,” he programs Mars rovers. (Yes, really!)
Though identification comes first, you will also find many pages of “Natural History” text on things like ecology, mycorrhizal connections, interesting adaptations, plant uses among the native peoples, explanations of the names, recent taxonomic changes, and more. There are articles on naturalist-explorers whom plants are named after, on each plant family, and on each physiographic region or mountain range.
Like all other iPhone apps, it is sold only through the iTunes Store. The price is $9.99.