Snap a photo, catalogue a plant.

Sean White

Cell Phones Help Catalog Earth's Plants Before They Disappear

What if you could become a citizen scientist simply by using your iPhone? That might not be too distant of a reality.

The LeafView Project

Dr. Sean White, in conjunction with Researchers from Columbia University, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian, is working on a project called LeafView, an electronic field guide that allows users to simply snap photos of a plant's leaves and automatically upload the information to a central database where it could be accessed for research. The app, and the citizen scientists using it, will help scientists follow what's happening with our natural world as the climate changes.

The project aims to started with plants from Central Park, then spread out to the northeast US, and will eventually spread on to more remote areas of the world as people travel to less explored areas of the globe, iPhone in tow. It could be a great way to utilize citizen science, while the users don't have to do much of anything except take a few great shots of interesting plants.

Snap a Photo, Catalog a Plant, Help Scientists Understand Climate Change Impacts

It may seem like a monumental task, but the LeafView project is making progress, and has even gained recognition from The Tech Awards as a Laureate.

While specialized for identifying plants, the project hopes to have a broad impact on our knowledge of flora, before many plant species succumb to climate change.

The project states: "By providing efficient access to a digital herbarium, we hope to greatly accelerate the discovery and identification of the remaining undescribed plants of the world. In addition, our tools can be used to improve speed and accuracy of plant census collection. Finally, we plan to provide a mobile phone-based system that can be used by a broad population of botanists and enthusiasts for plant identification and data collection."

LeafView has already helped produce images of over 90,000 plant specimens. The app is being constantly improved, including augmented reality elements.