I generally don’t have much to do with smartphone apps, but there are a few notable exceptions.

One is iNaturalist, a free app through which users submit smartphone photos of plants or animals for nearly immediate identification — usually. Technology that encourages people to get outdoors and have closer relationships with the natural world is good.

iNaturalist is an internet-based joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. It relies on shared crowd-sourced knowledge and experience of other members of the community. This app been used by scientists for certain kinds of biodiversity assessments.

An annual four-day plant and animal identification event using iNaturalist, uniting citizen scientists and budding naturalists around the world, ended Monday. It’s called the City Nature Challenge.

This bio-blitz has become an opportunity for people of all ages to celebrate the outdoors while engaging in and advancing scientific research.

Participants take photos of plants and animals they find in their backyards and neighborhoods, and upload them via the iNaturalist app. Scientists use this information alongside images of plants and wildlife from around the world.

Every county in North Carolina is represented in one of five participating regions, each with a lead institution. The lead institution for Wilkes and other counties in western North Carolina is the N.C. Arboretum in Asheville.

The five North Carolina regions usually are engaged in a friendly competition to see which can upload the most observations and most species.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 City Nature Challenge was focused on celebrating biodiversity rather than competition.

Results of this year’s City Nature Challenge are scheduled to be announced Monday.

The accuracy of iNaturalist and other plant identification apps can vary based on lighting, position, contrast with surrounding plants and other factors.

N.C. State University Cooperative Extension offer an online resource called “Plant Toolbox” for learning about horticultural species, offering growing information, photographs and a “Find a Plant” feature that can aid in determining the right plant for the right place in a garden or landscape.

It also has an “Identify a Plant” function that helps narrow down potential species based on different plant traits.

N.C. State offers a series of online classes on plant identification, with instructions on botanical terms and key features important for the identification of herbaceous, woody, edible and ornamental plants. The online, interactive material is suited for all learning types.

NCSU Professor Alexander Krings and his team at the university developed a series of online keys and image galleries that are accessible and easy to use for amateur botanists.

Included are dichotomous keys for trees in central North Carolina, pitcher plants, ferns, and even woody plants using winter twig features. Much of the information available there applies to plants in Wilkes County.

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