App Review: Audubon Guides Wildflowers of Texas

I wanted to try out a few gardening or field-guide apps on the iPhone and offer a review. But after a few different searches, I couldn’t find much that begged to be downloaded, much less purchased. Far too many of the apps tracked rather generic tasks, allowed you to make lists, do simple project management, or offered pretty rudimentary planting advice based on your agricultural zone. Essentially, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised or blown away.

But I did find the Audubon Guide to Texas Wildflowers in the App Store, and was pretty sure I might have found something that at least had some quality. After all, the Audubon Guides in print are some of the best field guides you can get for certain purposes. And, essentially, a field guide app would marry good search features with a great database of material, something Audubon ought to have. Not to mention it would be running alongside GPS and mapping apps on my iPhone, making it a pretty indispensable tool out in the field.

This app is a pretty big disappointment, however. It seems to have startling holes in what plants it features, and the information about those plants. For example, it has several species of grasses – many of them introduced and invasive (in a guide about wildflowers, mind you) – but no agarita, a pretty important endemic flowering shrub. No cedar sage, no flame acanthus, no turkscap mallow, no rose pavonia, no frostweed. The various forms of milkweed I could find in the app were the introduced tropical species, while the endemic ones were missing. Arguably, some of these are shrubs and perhaps didn’t make the cut for a wildflower guide, but then why the grasses? Why the inclusion of cacti (but not the local lace cactus)?

Another glaring omission is the inability to search by latin name. Perhaps I’d find some of the missing plants if I could search by something other than the oft-differing common names. Other search capabilities seem like odd inclusions considering the data that actually comes back. A search by ZIP code for mine comes back with a list of 789 plants, many of which I’ve never heard of and which make me question whether the app’s range data is correct. Indeed, when you select the “range” button under many of the plant descriptions, you get a “no range data found” error.

There are other features that could put this app on the right track – lifelong sighting lists, the ability to add your own photos, searching by shape, color, etc., but the frequency with which the app crashes, too, makes me question whether I could trust it with lots of added notes or photos.

And finally, another feature that could improve the plant information – the ability to synchronize with data on the Audubon website – takes far too long to complete, and has wanted to run every time I’ve launched the app. A recent sync with 94 plants took over 15 minutes before it appeared to hang and I simply quit the application.

So, while I wanted this to be a printed field guide replacement, I’m going to happily hold on to my various book guides for now. And keep searching for the killer gardening or field-guide app.

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