Val Thomas, Innovator and Project leader of TheTreeApp, says that flowers are, as a generalisation, not a very big part of tree identification or tree knowledge.
“In close on 50% of trees in South Africa, flowers are 5mm or smaller. While they are a very real way of identifying trees when they occur, their size makes it more difficult to identify a tree than by, for example, the tree’s fruit or leaf system,” Thomas says.
Because they are so often not striking – even though botanists have always understood how flowers work – identifying a tree by its flowers is not an arena that has ever been presented to the public in language that untrained people can grasp easily.
“The wide range of authors describing flowers and how they attach to the tree has seen words such as ‘spray’, ‘cluster’, ‘head’, ‘branch’ and ‘fascicle’ bandied about,” she says. “These words have sometimes been indiscriminately or even personally interpreted by authors in the more public arena. As a result, many of those who haven’t studied botany are left confused.”
Thomas comments that through six years of creating TheTreeApp, immense effort was put to finding ways of describing flowers consistently so that any English speaking person can follow the concepts and add this skill to their tools for identifying trees.
“To simplify and still remain authentic, TheTreeApp has dispensed with the list above – namely, spray, cluster, head, branch, fascicle – and uses the word “collections” to cover general flower-groups.
“In addition, the actual shapes of flowers are described in very specific terminology that relates to visual images that ordinary people understand – star-shaped, poppy-like, tube/tubular with separated petals and cup-shaped, without separated petals,” she adds.
As a result, anyone using TheTreeApp will need to spend some time browsing through the flower section to become familiar with the terminology used by the App. “However,” Thomas says, “this is not a difficult task, but one that gives a new way of seeing trees and adds to the enjoyment.”
Smaller paintings by Joan Van Gogh alongside the species art, magnifies some of the tiny flowers. When combined with the other art, texts, maps and location search, TheTreeApp offers a unique resource for anyone, botanist, or enthusiast, or professional in any plant field.
TheTreeApp aims to help people to discover the joy of knowing the trees around them, as well as enjoying the actual app experience. The app contains encyclopaedic knowledge about the woody part of the natural outdoor environment, and this means that people of all ages can add to their love and awareness of the wild.