News and Tribune

October 20, 2013

For trees, there's now an app for that

Purdue app designed to identify 50 Midwest trees

[Lafayette] Journal and Courier

WEST LAFAYETTE — “Is that a red mulberry or a slippery elm in the backyard? An Eastern red cedar or a Scotch pine?

A new mobile app developed by Purdue Extension forestry experts aims to help consumers, students, Master Gardeners and foresters identify Midwest trees they encounter on a daily basis.

Fifty Trees of the Midwest combines more than 400 photos of leaves, buds, twigs, flowers, fruits and bark. It features a comparison tool where users can identify a tree using key descriptors and characteristics along with a glossary, tree search, and space to record field notes.

“People are getting outside more and interested in their trees,” said Lindsey Purcell, a Purdue Extension urban forestry specialist who helped with the app. “It helps create a better informed consumer.”

The purpose of the app is to put information in the hands of consumers so they can take better care of their trees.

“It is the duty and the responsibility of every homeowner to maintain and manage their trees,” Purcell said. “If they have a tree in their yard, they are responsible for that.”

The app, which was first released in August, currently is available for iPhone, iPod and iPad users only. An Android app is in development stages.

It is not uncommon for homeowners to be ignorant about trees they have in their yard, Purcell said, because many look alike.

“They all behave and look very differently to the professionals,” Purcell said, “but to the homeowners they’re all evergreens.”

That can become a problem if homeowners believe they have a diseased tree, or if a tree is not suited to the environment it was planted in.

“One of the big issues we’ve seen here ... is emerald ash borer,” Purcell said. “People think they have ash trees and a lot of times they’re not ash trees at all. They could be lookalikes.”

Trees such as hackberries and sycamores tend not to do as well in an urban environment. If you have one, Purcell said, it’s important to know that and be able to take care of it.

“Trees have done very well for many centuries without our care,” he said. “The problem is that often, trees are planted into urban and suburban environments, which puts them into stress and decline. They need a little care.”

The app originally was a book, designed by retired urban forester Rita McKenzie. Deciding to create an app was an effort to modernize the resource, which frequently was used by 4-H members.

“With the popularity of smartphones, and especially iPhones,” Purcell said, “it’s kind of nice to be able to take it and have it right with you at all times.”