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A forest on your phone

TheTreeApp is a smart-device app that makes it possible for you to identify and learn about our 980 larger indigenous tree species, as well as 135 alien invasive trees.

As more people become aware of the environment and humans’ impact on it, there is a burgeoning group of South Africans who want to know which trees are growing in various areas across the country, not only by name but by the countless jewels of information that make each species unique.

Over the past six years, innovator and project leader Val Thomas and a team of highly skilled and diverse professionals have been creating what has been called by some reviewers “the Google of tree search engines”.

Named TheTreeApp, South Africa, it can be used on any smart phone or tablet under 3 years old. It enables users to search for specific trees; or to get an idea of what trees are growing in the region they happen to be in - including (for example) which of the trees are endangered and how many trees are poisonous or have yellow or pink flowers – with a series of simple screen touches.

Says Thomas: “Indigenous trees in South Africa are our passion. We have created the ‘go-to’ place for information, alongside a simple but comprehensive search system to identify them. And it is accessible to everyone from primary school learners to tree experts.”

Project IT development and systems analyst, Herman van den Berg says: “Unlike many apps used for identification in wildlife, TheTreeApp is far more than an e-book. What differentiates it is the incredibly powerful search engine, which allows the user to easily and accurately filter trees into very short identification lists, or even identify an individual tree – with names in any of the 11 local languages that have the tree in their home language area.

“This search function not only comprises hundreds of categories, but also has a powerful GPS location capability that can narrow down the search from eleven hundred trees to those that are within a 12.5km radius of the chosen spot. These range from 480 to less than 25 trees. The GPS, combined with beautiful illustrations, artwork, pictures and extensive tree information, makes this the most enjoyable and powerful tree identification resource on the market.”

Dr Robbie (Ernest) Robinson, senior botanical advisor for TheTreeApp and Honorary Conservation Fellow, Zoological Society of London Scientific advisor, says: “It is almost impossible to over-state the importance of correctly identifying indigenous trees in natural environments, and this app provides a unique tool to achieve this.

“Because there is such a rich diversity of tree species in South Africa, multi-species tree communities provide habitats and niches for many kinds of animals, birds, and other plants and micro-organisms. The correct identification of the trees is a prerequisite for understanding the functioning and therefore the conservation and management of those ecosystems.”

Thomas says that one of the reasons that trees have been difficult to identify, for ‘ordinary’ people without a botanical background, is that with most wild animals, individuals of any species will look similar. On the other hand, a certain tree species may appear tall in one area and almost bush-like in another, while they are biologically identical. The information in TheTreeApp is so finely detailed that identification is made simpler, even when nature isn’t.

“Over the years, birders and other wildlife enthusiasts have become very interested in the incredibly diverse trees that make South Africa a place where travellers can learn exciting facts about all life forms from one region to another,” says Thomas. “TheTreeApp is also ideal for homeowners, construction companies and others who need to ensure they are not removing endangered species and are choosing the most ideal plants for their indigenous gardens. This is such a powerful way to ensure the sustainability of trees.”

With over 1 110 beautiful paintings by artist Joan Van Gogh – of the Vincent Van Gogh lineage – and the same number of detailed twig and leaf sketches by Penny Moraites, the app has been reviewed by botanists, horticulturalists, professional guides, students and even children, to ensure both its accuracy and its user-friendliness.

Says Thomas: “Even though South Africa is home to one of the most treed cities in the world – Johannesburg – many locals are unaware that indigenous woody species of some type or another are present in every corner of our country. TheTreeApp can add an entertaining new dimension to many outdoor experiences in natural areas such as hiking, walking, fishing, climbing, picnics, family holiday-driving and weekend getaways. There are even many golf courses in South Africa with indigenous species.”

In addition to the indigenous core the app covers 130 invasive and other alien trees to strengthen the general public’s understanding of the threat that these trees pose in many parts of our country.

Available for download on 1 September 2017 – the start of Arbor Week – from both the Apple iStore and the Google Play Store, just R499.95 puts a comprehensive list of most woody species that grow to three metres and above, in any natural area, throughout South Africa, in your pocket. Electronic updates mean new data can be delivered as soon as it becomes available.

TheTreeApp is the most accessible South African product of its type and a boon for nature lovers, parents, children and teachers as well as a wide range of professionals and experts in any fields where trees are a vital, central component.

For more information, please visit TheTreeApp’s website here.

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