Ilmenau on the evening of July 1, 2023. People glance at their mobile phones to check if they’ll need an umbrella due to the weather. But is that all? No!
Some of them look at their phones to read about a pink-blooming wild plant: Epilobium angustifolium, it says, the Narrow-leaved Willowherb. Belongs to the Evening Primrose family and grows at the forest edge. Or Hypericum perforatum, the Common St. John’s Wort. “I know that as tea! So that’s how it looks?” Yes!
These situations and many similar ones were experienced as, on July 1, 2023, the doors of (among others) the Zuse Building at TU Ilmenau opened for Ilmenau Science Night, and many interested people came by to “personally meet Flora Incognita.” And we were well-prepared: With blooming wild plants in pots, an app quiz, and botanical tours around the university campus, but also with advanced offerings like microscopic examination of phytoplankton or information stands that explained how the Artificial Intelligence behind Flora Incognita is already being used to identify field wildflowers through drone images, or to support urban planners in creating bee-friendly landscapes.
Another focus of our presentation was to educate about how we conduct research with the plant identifications from the Flora Incognita app. Our scientists were eager to point out that the data already allows for the detection of phenological shifts in plant flowering phases, or that the spread of invasive species like Impatiens glandulifera can be monitored. In light of ongoing climate change, such information is very valuable; and with Flora Incognita’s new project feature, it’s easy for nature enthusiasts to conduct their own citizen science projects and analyze the observation data collected.
It’s always something special to engage with long-time fans and learn which aspects of the app are particularly popular and which ones have room for improvement. But we’re equally proud when we can dispel skepticism and encourage people to simply try out the app and start identifying plants. Fun Fact: Secretly, we like to count how many new installations we can achieve through our on-site efforts at such events!
But it’s not just in Ilmenau where we could convince: Also in Göttingen, where on June 23, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Day took place, we were present with an information booth on the marketplace. Unfortunately, due to persistent rain, not many people were out and about, but that allowed us to engage in longer and more intense conversations with interested individuals about our app, the loss of biodiversity, and our research work. In Göttingen, we were joined by scientists from the ATTO Tower (MPI for Biogeochemistry Jena and MPI for Chemistry Mainz), who invited attendees to climb the measurement tower in the Amazon rainforest and talk about their climate research using a VR station. A special highlight of the day was the visit of Prof. Patrick Cramer, the new president of the Max Planck Society, to our booth.
At this point, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who took the time to convey praise and criticism, ask questions, and be curious. Thanks also to Manuel Maidorn and the staff of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen for providing the many plants at the booth! Our gratitude also goes to our sponsors who make this public outreach possible.
See you soon!
Title image: Max Planck Society, photograph by David Ausserhofer
We get asked quite often of whether one can view the personal plant observations outside of the Flora Incognita app, for example in Google Maps or a Geographic Information System (GIS). The answer is simple: Yes, you can! In this article, you will find three tutorials for that – depending on your use case.
Exporting your data out of Flora Incognita
Regardless of the method you choose, first, you need to export your observations from the Flora Incognita app. To do that:
1) Open your observation list under My Observations from the home screen and tap on the Share icon at the top right.
2) You can now transfer either a .csv file or a .gpx file to your computer using various methods.
3) If you want to export your observations including the images, we recommend that you first filter the observation list to reduce the number of observations to be exported. The reason for this is the enormous increase in file size caused by the images.
Exporting Flora Incognita observations to Google Maps
With this method, you can view your findings in Google Maps on the desktop without requiring any additional software.
- Go to https://www.google.com/intl/en/maps/about/mymaps/ and start a new project under Get Started.
- Click on the Owned tab and select Create a New Map. You will get a blank map with its own context menu:
- Under Untitled Layer, click on Import and choose the previously exported .csv file.
- In the following menu, select the latitude and longitude columns. Click Continue.
- Now choose how your data points should be labeled. Choose name for the common name or scientific name for the scientific name. Click Finish. Note: The points are now marked but the labels are not visible yet.
- In the menu window, click on Uniform Style and choose the name you want to display under Label.
- Under Base Map, you can customize the underlying map as desired:
- Further individual adjustments are possible under the available menu options. Clicking on a data point will display the transferred meta-information.
Exporting Flora Incognita observations to QGIS
QGIS is a professional GIS application developed based on Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). Choosing this option is useful if you work professionally or in your free time with GIS.
- Open QGIS and create a new project (Project -> New).
- In the left menu, select your map base layer under XYZ Tiles by double-clicking. In our example, we use OpenStreetMap. You can now zoom into the map.
- In the main navigation, select Layer -> Add Layer -> Add Delimited Text Layer.
- Choose your previously exported .csv file and check the extracted file format for the following parameters:
- File format: CSV (comma separated values)
- Geometry definition: X field: longitude; Y field: latitude
- Geometry: EPSG:4326 – WGS 84
- Click Add at the bottom right and close the window. Now you will see your discoveries in the map, but still without labels. Learning how to customize your findings is the next step.
- Right-click on your Flora Incognita layer in the Layer panel to the left of the map. Select Properties.
- Under Label change the setting from No Label to Single Label. Under Value you can choose whether you want to display the scientific or the trivial name. Confirm with OK. The result looks like this:
Exporting Flora Incognita observations with R
R is a free programming language for statistical calculations and graphics. To follow this guide, you need to execute prepared scripts using the appropriate software. Basic knowledge of R is required.
- Go to https://www.r-project.org and install the latest version of the R program.
- Go to https://posit.co/products/open-source/rstudio/ and install the latest RStudio.
- Install and load the necessary libraries.
- Read your .csv file.
- Create and load the map. Closely located observations are clustered.
addCircleMarkers(lng = ~longitude, lat = ~latitude,
label = ~scientific.name, radius=7, labelOptions = labelOptions(style = list("color" = "black"),
noHide = T, textOnly=T, textsize = "10px", offset = c(1, 12)),
color="black", clusterOptions = markerClusterOptions(spiderfyOnMaxZoom=T))
- Add the plant findings to the map. To display the trivial name, replace “scientific.name” with “name”.
addLabelOnlyMarkers(lng = ~longitude, lat = ~latitude, group="labs",
label = ~scientific.name, labelOptions = labelOptions(style = list("color" = "black"),
noHide = T, textOnly=T, textsize = "10px", offset = c(1, 12))) %>%
addCircleMarkers(lng = ~longitude, lat = ~latitude, color="black") %>%
addCircleMarkers(lng = ~longitude, lat = ~latitude, radius=2, label = ~scientific.name, color="white")
You can also download the guide as a text file: R_MapExport_EN
“Flora Incognita”, Germany’s most popular plant identification app, has been further enhanced by a new artificial intelligence (AI) – as a result, the number of identifiable plant species has tripled: around 16,000 species can be identified worldwide. The app, available in 20 languages, now also works offline. Its range of digital educational content has been significantly expanded to include a wide range of new plant information.
Scientists from the Technical University of Ilmenau and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena have improved Flora Incognita with a new technological basis of self-learning, deep neural networks. Prof. Patrick Mäder, head of the Department of Data Intensive Systems and Visualisation and project leader of Flora Incognita at the TU Ilmenau, and the research team from Jena have made great efforts to develop innovative machine-learning training methods for these networks in the last months: “We immediately applied the new methods to the Flora Incognita app and were thus able to process millions of images of plants worldwide in our data center at the TU Ilmenau. With the right images, the new networks are able to classify many plant species with an accuracy of almost 100 per cent”.
For the new app version, user-friendliness and accessibility have also been improved. Plant finds can now be captured offline in nature, i.e. without a network connection, and automatically identified later (with internet access). Germany’s most popular plant identification app is also used by teachers at schools and universities to support education. Since school devices rarely have mobile internet, in particular this target group benefits from the new offline mode.
In addition, a new gamification element has been introduced: Users can collect badges for documenting certain plant groups. With this, they not only enjoy collecting plants themselves over a longer period of time,but they also strengthen the awareness of biodiversity in their social environment. At the same time, the app creates an incentive to document already known species or other plant groups, which provides scientists with important data for their research projects.
Another new feature is the possibility to use Flora Incognita for citizen science projects. Lay people involved in the project can identify plants as usual, for example, invasive species of a region, special trees, or the plant diversity of a school campus. Those responsible for the citizen science project then receive the anonymized observation data for scientific and nature conservation evaluation.
But not only the technology of the Flora-Incognita app has improved. The data basis and the underlying information have also been expanded. Citizen scientists, i.e. interested laypeople, have contributed to this. With the “Flora Capture” app, which was specially developed for the scientific documentation of plants, thousands of images from defined perspectives have already been transmitted, which have contributed to a significant improvement in the identification accuracy of the German flora, especially for critical plant groups such as grasses. Students of the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt participated in the recording of thousands of trees, so that now identification is also possible in winter on the basis of bud images. The authors of the book “African Plants – A Photo Guide” and members of the Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences and the Dresden University of Applied Sciences provided further important data for the expansion of the identifiable species.
Co-project leader Dr. Jana Wäldchen from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena announces that the additional information offered in the app will be further expanded in the coming months: “We plan to supplement the plant fact sheets with additional exciting details. For example, we are thinking of information on how pollinator-friendly a species is or whether it is invasive. In this way, we would like to provide our users with interesting plant knowledge after the identification.
With our latest release of the Flora Incognita app, we are happy to give you two updates that many have asked for, in addition to numerous small bug fixes:
- an offline mode
- badges for 2023
An offline mode for Flora Incognita
Often, the most exciting plants grow where there is no internet coverage, or teachers want to use the app in an educational context, but the need for a mobile data connection makes this impossible. Now we have a solution for this: the offline mode. What does it do?
It allows you to record plants with the Flora Incognita app and save them as observations. However, you do not receive a plant name, but the observation is saved as “unknown herb or shrub”, “unknown tree”, etc. in your observation list. This also corresponds to the process that botanists would follow: What is not identified in the field is packed up and identified later. This is now also the case with the app. When you are back home (or somewhere with access to the internet), you can identify the unknown observations with a click and read the species fact sheets of the plants you have found – as usual.
By the way: Plants identified in offline mode also contribute to the worldwide monitoring of plant diversity – provided you have allowed Flora Incognita access to your location. In this case, the location of the plant is stored as meta-information at your observation.
The introduction of the badges last year brought great joy to many users, and right in the first days of the new year we received many e-mails whether there will also be new badges for this year. Yes! They are now ready and waiting for you to collect them:
– Plant of the Year 2023: Collect the common self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
– Tree of the Year 2023: Collect a brown birch (Betula pubescens)
– Poisonous Plant of the Year 2023: Collect parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
– Medicinal Plant of the Year 2023: Collect a vine (Vitis vinifera)
– Plant Society of the Year: Collect a representative of the Littorelletea uniflorae community
If you enjoy our app and plant identification, we would be very happy to receive a rating and a few kind words in the App Store. Thank you very much!
One third of the plant species in Germany is listed as endangered, tendency increasing. At the same time, the number of people with species knowledge is continuously decreasing. But how can we protect species that we don’t recognize? The Flora Incognita research project combines smartphones, artificial intelligence and citizen participation in an app that interactively and automatically identifies plants based on image recordings. With every successful application, the app learns and improves its recognition accuracy. At the same time, the records of the identified species and locations create valuable data sets to answer questions of species protection and biodiversity. More than 1 million people, from enthusiastic laypersons to biology professors, are already using the free app. The interdisciplinary project team from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena and the Technical University of Ilmenau was honored for its development with the Thuringian Research Prize in the category of applied research.Read more
The Thuringian Environmental Prize, awarded by the Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Nature Conservation, recognizes the commitment for a habitable environment and healthy nature. In Thuringia, the prize is awarded for outstanding achievements and dedication to environmental protection that contribute to ecological improvements in the context of sustainable development.
The high-ranking, 12-member jury selected 2 special prizes from among the applications received in addition to the prize winners from outside academic research. The Flora Incognita research group of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC) was honored with this prize for its app for plant identification.
Dr. Jana Wäldchen, head of the research group at MPI-BGC, together with Prof. (JP) Dr. Patrick Mäder, TU Ilmenau, accepted the award from Minister Anja Siegesmund in the Jena Climate Pavillon. „After almost 5 years of intensive development work, we have created a widely used and popularly accepted app for automatic plant identification,“ says Patrick Mäder, „but we want to continue to make continuous improvements for the users.“
„In the long run, we as researchers can use the data from the Flora Incognita App to make many other decipherings: When do which species bloom? How strongly do the traits of the individual plants vary? What is the relationship to climate change and land use patterns?“ emphasized Jana Wäldchen.