Outdoors

A Digital Guide to Glacier’s Flora

New mobile App helps hikers identify Glacier National Park wildflowers

There’s an old cliché about stopping to smell the roses, a widely used maxim whose sentiment, though cheapened like dime-store perfume through the years, remains basically intact – we must indulge these fleeting moments if we’re to enjoy life’s essence.

The live-in-the-now aphorism is even more relevant in the hustle-and-bustle of modern culture and its seizure-inducing distractions of LED screens, social media and talking heads, whose fulsome blossoms hardly warrant a whiff.

So it would seem contradictory that a smartphone app might help people attain a measure of grace in nature, but, as Whitney Tilt has found, the paradox holds up.

A wildflower expert and conservationist, Tilt, who earned a masters in environmental science from Yale, had published a book about wildflower identification in Yellowstone National Park when a fellow researcher approached him about a more tech-savvy version of the field guide.

“He said, ‘So, when are you going to develop an app for this?’ and I said, ‘for one thing, I don’t carry a phone when I hike in the outback, and for another thing, I don’t know how they work,’” Tilt said.

The more they talked about it, the more Tilt became intrigued and, after meeting software developer Katie Gibson, the conversation eventually led to the development of a series of digital field guides that are downloadable to smartphones and tablets.

Tilt and Gibson collaborated to start a business called High Country Apps, which has launched a Flora of the Yellowstone app and another called Glacier Wildflowers, which they developed in association with Shannon Kimball, a botanist and author from Kalispell.

They’ve also developed apps for Colorado and the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, as well as the state parks of Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

Tilt said the phone and tablet platforms can offer many possibilities that a book cannot. Not only can information be added or edited quickly, but it may also be adapted to use for citizen science projects or to capture tech-savvy children’s interest in nature. They’re already considering adding a feature for users to compose a life list of plants they’ve seen.

Tilt hopes that by marrying technology with an appreciation of nature, the app will encourage the digital generation to go outdoors.

“Having spent 30 years in conservation I’ve seen a trend in videophilia keeping kids indoors. There are too many children stuck to a screen,” he said. “So if we can take things like apps and make scientific literature and plant identification more interesting and kind of help bridge that gap, we can engage them and teach them to care about it.”

The Glacier app offers more than 300 wildflowers, trees, shrubs and grasses commonly encountered in the park and surrounding region. The app functions without data once installed and is available on iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet or Kindle Fire platforms for $7.99 to $9.99.

Five percent of the proceeds from each sale go to a nonprofit group. For the Yellowstone app, the Yellowstone Park Foundation is the receiving partner. For Glacier, proceeds go to the Glacier Park Conservancy.

Designed for experts and beginners alike, Glacier Wildflowers presents plants in a clear, informative format featuring photos and botanical illustrations, description and field marks, and tidbits on the plant’s ecology and cultural use.

An innovative, easy-to-use search function allows the user to select flower color, leaf type, and other characteristics to quickly identify unknown plants. Using the search function, select what you know about the plant, and all species matching your description will be displayed.

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