BBG scientists have developed interactive identification keys to woody plants of the region ...The keys are available for the New York City Metropolitan Area, and for New York State. They're packaged as ZIP files for download for PCs and PDAs. I downloaded both PC versions to try them out; each file is about 4MB in size. (The PDA versions are huge, over 100MB, for reasons I'll explain later.)
... Users often experience difficulties naming a plant when the [field] guide refers to a structure (e.g., flowers) that the specimen does not have. If the structure doesn't exist, the user is stuck at that identification step, with limited options for further classifying the plant.
- Woody Plant Identification Made Easy With Interactive Keys, BBG Members News Newsletter, Spring 2007 (PDF, requires membership login), p. 3
The main page is a frameset (a Web page with different areas). The left-hand frame, or pane, provides the key. It's much like a traditional key, a series of yes-or-no questions. However, instead of the traditional hierarchical key, the key is flattened out so that all 106 questions are presented at once. For example, here is their question #34:
Of course, you still need to know what "mucronate-cuspidate" means. That's where the images come in. The text for each key links to a JPEG file which provides an example of the key, and sometimes additional text. For example, here's the image which comes up when you click the "Left (leaflet) apex" label from Key #34:
The right-hand pane lists plant taxa, either genus or species. Clicking a genus expands to the list of species. For example, Amelanchier expands to:
Each species name links to the details for that plant. This Amelanchier example is from the Metro version of the keys; each name links to its page on BBG's New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF) Web site. The NY State version takes you to the New York Flora Association Atlas (NYFA) Web site. I'm guessing that the PDA versions of the keys load all these pages onto the PDA instead of linking to the external Web sites, which is why those download files are so large.
The next to each name gives you the keys for that species. Here are the keys for Amelanchier canadensis:
Finally, the top frame/pane has two buttons which allow you to synch up or filter the contents of the left and right panes. After selecting one or more keys in the left pane, clicking the button filters the list in the right pane to matching genera and species. Similarly, after selecting a genus in the right pane, you can click the button to filter the keys to relevant questions to distinguish species within the genus. (This seems to happen automatically when you select a genus anyway, so I'm not sure why this button is needed.) If you know you're looking at an Oak or a Maple, for example, you could use this feature to identify which species.
I haven't had a chance to actually use the keys yet to identify anything. But there are some confusing Maples I've got my eyes on.
- New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF)
- New York Flora Association Atlas
- Stinger's Lightweight Interactive Key Software (SLIKS) is the open-source (GPL) software engine for the BBG keys. This page lists some other applications of the software.