App changes how people access information about plant species

An educational tech startup is commercializing a Purdue University innovation that could allow traveling students, professors, tourists and plant enthusiasts to easily access a database of tropical plant profiles, right in the palm of their hands.

Sustainable Rainforest Solutions LLC was founded by Lori Unruh Snyder, a former assistant professor of agronomy in Purdue's College of Agriculture and current associate professor and undergraduate teaching coordinator in the Crop Science Department at North Carolina State University. The company has developed an informational and interactive application to display interesting facts, images and other information about plants in Costa Rica.

"In the past, people had to carry big guidebooks with them overseas to be able to identify and learn about the plants they saw," Snyder said. "What I've created is a quick, easy to use plant guide so users are able to pull out their phone, open an app and find all the information they need about a particular plant, without the hassle of packing, carrying and looking through a huge book in the field."

The Green Notes Costa Rica app, the company's first app, features categories of different plants as well as visual aids and an array of useful information and facts.

"Throughout the app users will see different categories of plants, like ornamentals, and medicinals, and information on things such as if the plant is poisonous, what its uses are and other general information specific to that plant," she said. "There's a note feature so that once you've found the plant, you are able to save personal notes on what you saw. You're also able to take pictures and send them with your notes saved within the app, creating your own personal database. Another exciting feature is that users can report a plant siting and geo-locate where they are to log it in the app."

The idea was cultivated based on Snyder's experience as a professor and passion for plant botany and tropical research specifically in Central America.

"I've traveled to Costa Rica over 30 times and the country has one of the largest biodiversity of species, where they have well over 10,000 vascular plants alone. It is a great place for research because of this, as well as the many different micro-climate environments and both ecology and agro-ecological environments for plant diversity," Snyder said. "As a professor I can see how this app can have a large educational benefit. If you take students on a research trip or study abroad to Costa Rica, they are able to take notes and images and show their professors what information they were able to obtain at the touch of their fingers. It can also be used interactively; students can have competitions amongst themselves on plants they've seen and use the app as their scoreboard or use the informational facts as discussion points."

Snyder said her goal is to eventually create an app for other Latin American and Caribbean regions, such as The Lancetillla Botanical Gardens in Honduras and the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica.

"Most of the places I'm going to be creating Green Notes for are within or around rainforests or wet, humid tropical environments," she said. "I think this digital guidebook app will really transform the learning process because of its interactivity and ease of use."

Sustainable Rainforest Solutions LLC licensed the innovation through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

Snyder said that the app could play a huge role in educating students, consumers and companies on where products and food are sourced.

"We live in a global market, whether it's food or other consumer products. Being able to support the educational awareness of the biodiversity that surrounds our food sources and draw a visual relationship between the two can help bring more meaning and value to the importance of sustainable production," she said. "A good example I use in my class that students can relate to is a coffee company. Showcasing the biodiversity seen within a coffee region and educating on how important it is really creates a connection and makes students think about and appreciate what embodies their cups of coffee each day."

The company is currently looking for more partners to further develop the app and explore its usefulness with large eco resorts, nonprofits that focus on sustainability and biodiversity within the rainforest, and in the food industry.

"I'd love to create a partnership with a company that wants to help educate its consumer about the plethora of plant and animal diversity that cultivates the farms or rainforests where the company is located or where they might source their products from," Snyder said.

Users are able to download the Green Notes Costa Rica app from the iTunes store.

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