I’ll bet you have a few field guide books in your library. If they are small enough and paperback, you probably put them in your pocket or knapsack and carry them with you on hikes to help identify the plants you find. You may even keep a book or a small library in your car for ready reference.
In the last several years many of us have also started to carry around small pocket computers or “smartphones.” It seems only logical that digital versions of field guides stored on a smartphone would replace paperback copies. Perhaps you have even tried out one or two yourself.
However I have to say that in practice I have found these apps lacking in some respect or another myself. What I have been turning to instead for field identification is some form of social media. Two tools that I like are iNaturalist and (yes) Facebook.
This actually makes sense if you think about it. What has been the one thing in your experience that has been even better than carrying around a field guide to identify plants? How about if you had a panel of expert plant botanists at your side all the time?
That’s exactly what you get with a Facebook group devoted to plant identification. Okay, not everyone in the group is an expert but some of them are. There are plenty of groups like this to choose from, but one that I especially like is Texas Flora.
Texas Flora was started by Michael Eason and now has upwards of 2000 members. It’s also officially sponsored by our Society. At its last meeting, the state board appointed Kim Conrow as a group moderator. Of course you have to be on Facebook to participate. Just search Facebook for the group and request to join. Once you get access you can share photos of plants you need identification help with, and you can also help others with identification. The group also posts information about plants and organizations with an interest in plants.
Another outstanding tool is iNaturalist. Like Facebook it depends on “crowdsourcing” for field identification. This tool has been around since 2008 and has over 70,000 users. Although I had heard of it from friends and even registered on it, I did not actually become an active user until Cullen Hanks of Texas Parks and Wildlife gave a demo at the Annual Symposium in Austin last October.
Once they register themselves at www.iNaturalist.org, users make observations and log them under their account. Observations can be organized into lists, according to location or kind or any other criteria. Observations may be identified at the time they are logged, or they may be placed in an “ID please” folder to get help from others in the iNaturalist community. The app is not just about plants either; you can also make observations of birds, insects or whatever your interest is.
I’ve started a list of plants and animals in my own yard, as well as another list of plants I find on field trips. Just as on other social media you can choose to follow other users and if you are interested in my lists and adventures, you may follow me at my userid “prairiepoint.” You’ll find lots of your friends and other Society members already on there too.
By the way, you don’t need a smartphone to use either one of these tools. In fact I prefer to take photos with a regular camera and upload them on my desktop computer.