iPhone application helps identify wildflowers of Sierra Nevada ranges, California native wildflowers.

For a phone guide that deals specifically with the West, I went to a new series of applications by California native plant enthusiast Steve Hartman.

Hartman, a board member at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley, has two iPhone apps out through a company called Earthrover Software. One is for wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada ranges, another is for California native wildflowers. Each is $9.99.

In both cases, Earthrover helps you “key” wildflowers with a series of useful prompts: What time of year is it? Where did you see it? Roadside? Coastal bluff? Is it a shrub, vine, succulent? The botanically literate can search by plant families, but a kid old enough to hold the phone could simply start searching photos.

Grammar is not a strong point. But what this application has that others don’t is a deep knowledge of our local terrain that more general texts, even ones that are more professionally produced, so often lack.


Moreover, Hartman’s programs don’t rely on their own descriptions and photos. Search under “what’s flowering now” and select “big berry manzanita,” and you will get links to the Jepson Manual and to UC Berkeley’s CalPhoto Plants, where there may be dozens of shots from all manner of angles in all seasons, ready for examination.

When I plan hikes or trips to botanical gardens or nurseries, I use books -- as many as I can stack up on a desk or around a couch. These are the tools of comfort, anticipation and relish. Their batteries don’t go dead, and they don’t drop into sleep mode in mid-use. But when hiking in Griffith Park, or standing out in a nursery trying to find out how big a 1-gallon ceanothus might get in my garden, I’ll be using Earthrover’s mobile field guides.

-- Emily Green