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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

To Key Plants

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, May 10, 2017/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, art and design, environment, plants



                                                                             Carl von Linne

The famous botanist Carl Linnaeus developed a scientific approach to identify plants in 1735. His botanical "keys" systematically organized morphological features of plants into a structure to follow when identifying a new one. By ranking the arrangements of petals, ovaries, anthers, leaves, seeds, and bark, the Swedish botanist ordered plants into families, genera, and species based on their similar characterists. His Systema Naturae became the basis for plant taxonomy and plant science in general. His system unlocked the evolutionary wonder of the plant world and is still in use today. 

    Hortus Cliffortianus, Linnaeus 1738 (public domain)         Flower Arrangement Forms (credit: Claremont College)

Times have changed but the need to identify plants has not. New species and genera continue being discovered and their position and relationship on the 'tree of life' is important. Plant DNA analysis, comparing samples of genetic sequences from different species, has confirmed relationships Linnaeus originally identified; completely re-ordered others into new relationships; and has greatly expanded understanding of their evolution.

Other tools keep emerging that allow ever more people to become involved even if they aren't students of plant biology. One cool mobile app turns a smartphone into an electronic "key" that can identify a plant seen while walking in a forest, in the mountains, or the desert. The science organization, Pl@ntNet , has created Shazam to process plant features---flowers, leaves, bark---by sending photos from a phone to their plant database. Their computer database compares the viewer's images to what is digitally stored so to help in an identification. The identifications aren't perfect yet but they improve with every new entry. Pl@ntNet's application can be used by trained plant scientists and interested plant enthusiasts alike. It is a perfect example of "citizen science" applying 'big-data' tools and everyone learns in the process. The knowledge of plants expands by many more participants adding data via the field use of the application.

You used to have to lug a bulky press into the field to press collected plants. The dry specimens went back to a dusty archive that few would see again. Now, your digital phone can open a "world of wonder" to discover plants in all their diversity. You might find them addictive!



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