THE NATIVE PLANT INFORMATION NETWORK

Presentation by Damon Waitt (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
www.wildflower.org/explore

To assemble and disseminate information that will increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes throughout North America.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Native Plant Information Network (NPIN) may be largest clearinghouse of native plant information in North America. With its straightforward navigation, easy to use search features, and rich content, NPIN is rapidly achieving Google-like status in the world of native plant information.

NPIN native plant pageHistory

When the Wildflower Center was first established as the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982, one of its constitutional purposes was to assemble and disseminate information that would encourage the cultivation, conservation, and preservation of wildflowers and other native flora throughout North America. To that end, the Wildflower Center has spent the last twenty-five years serving as a Clearinghouse for native plant information both collecting and distributing native plant resources to the Nation. In the 80’s and 90’s, Clearinghouse resources were made available to the public through a mail-order catalog and other publications like our newsletter and the Wildflower Handbook.

In 2000, it became clear that the Internet with its capacity to deliver large amounts of tailored information to a vast audience anytime, anyplace would be a perfect platform for the Clearinghouse. With grant support from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation in cooperation with the Plant Conservation Alliance and the Bureau of Land Management, the Clearinghouse was transformed into what is known today as the Native Plant Information Network.

Target Audience

NPIN is uniquely designed to inform a broad audience ranging from members of the general public such as homeowners, wildflower enthusiasts, and gardeners to practicing professionals such as botanists, land managers, and government personnel. Since its inception in 2006, use of the network has outperformed all our expectations.

Site Visitation
2006
2007
2008 (as of Sept.)
Sessions (Users)
NA
1,252,828
1,924,318
Pageviews
4,716,103
9,704,419
15,201,753
Hits
16,611,422
46,258,664
79,085,532
Bytes Transferred
NA
733.46 GB
1.13 TB

Conservation Need

The Native Plant Information Network directly addresses a number of plant conservation needs as identified in the Plant Conservation Alliance’s report, “National Framework for Progress”* and the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation program, Seeds of Success.”** According to “National Framework for Progress” report,

“Organizations and individuals interested in native plant conservation need to pool resources and combine energies to develop innovative approaches to ensure the continued existence of our plant resources. Most current plant conservation efforts lack focus and are fragmented among Federal agencies, States, conservation groups, botanical gardens, academia, and private individuals.”

In response to this need, NPIN serves the conservation community by consolidating and centralizing educational and informational resources on native plants and takes advantage of emerging web technologies to distribute the collection, input, and verification of data to a network of researchers and volunteers. Thus, NPIN provides foundational support for plant conservation needs in all areas by delivering a nation-wide resource for native plant information. It is safe to say, that any coordinated national approach to native plant conservation will benefit from continued growth of the Native Plant Information Network.

* Plant Conservation Alliance, “National Framework for Progress,” May 23, 1995.  http://www.nps.gov/plants/strategy.htm
** Bureau of Land Management, the Royal Botanic Gardens, (RBG) Kew, Plant Conservation Alliance, “Seeds of Success,” August 21, 2002.  http://www.nps.gov/plants/sos/index.htm

Program Features

At the heart of NPIN is a MySQL database with nearly thirty tables of information. These tables interact with one another to provide the main program features of the network as listed below.

Feature
Records
Native Plant Database 6,945 Native Plant Species
Image Gallery 22,999 Native Plant Images
Ask Mr. Smarty Plants 2,358 Questions and Answers
Recommended Species 50 State Lists and 20+ Special Collections
How To Articles 29 Articles (5 artículos en español)
Suppliers 1,074 Providers of Native Plant Services
Organizations 572 Plant Conservation Organizations
Bibliography 1,045 Floras, Field Guides and Related Publications

The most used features of the network are the Image Gallery, Native Plants Database and Mr. Smarty Plants in that order.

Native Plants Database – The lack of easily available information about native plants has made it more difficult for people to appreciate, use, and conserve them. With horticultural and botanical information on nearly 7,000 species, the Native Plants Database is the largest plant database of its kind in North America. A simple and efficient interface allows users to find plants by name, flower period, distribution, growing conditions, growth form or a combination of traits. Information for a plant can include a wide range of useful facts (see the New Program Features below). A more complete example can be seen by looking at Amorpha fruticosa.

Image Gallery – The Plant Image Gallery has grown to 23,000 images in the last year making it one of the largest plant image galleries in North America. As the gallery grows, so too does the number of requests for plant images from publishers, educators, scientists, and the public. Thousands of NPIN images have been distributed for use in books, magazines, brochures, and web sites.

Mr. Smarty PlantsAsk Mr. Smarty Plants – Since 1982 the Wildflower Center has responded to the public’s questions about native plants. In the early years, our resident Native Plant Information Specialist responded directly to individual queries using snail mail and, later, email. In 2003, the system evolved into the Ask the Expert website feature, which was renamed Mr. Smarty Plants in 2005. Mr. Smarty Plants also has a Facebook presence.


New Program Features

  1. Ability to create and manage special collections for both external and internal audiences such as the Native Plant Center, Native Seed Network, plant sales, etc.
  2. Partnership with Butterflies and Moths of North America to link native host plants and nectar sources with their butterfly resources.
  3. Partnership with Brooklyn Botanic Garden to provide native alternatives to invasive species.
  4. Reciprocal linkage with USDA PLANTS.
  5. Experimenting with digital herbarium featuring 1,160 specimens from the Bexar County Collection.
  6. Integrated bibliography and botanical glossary with plant records (and Amazon.com).
  7. Recommended species lists for all states in the continental U.S.
  8. Interactive search field and advanced combination search.
  9. Improved navigation and search functionality throughout.
  10. XML feed of Mr Smarty Plants Q&As (Austin American Statesman and Houston Chronicle).
  11. Geo-search capability for Suppliers, Organizations, and Green Guru.

NPIN Wish List

  1. Links with a national invasive plant database (WeedUS) to help people identify and find alternatives to invasive species.
  2. Reprise the National Event Calendar to connect people with plant-related conservation events in their geographic area and promote National Wildflower Week.
  3. Data sharing agreements with other organizations to integrate resources and help build out NPIN resources.
  4. Dedicated servers for image storage.
  5. Link supplier inventories to plant records to help public locate native plant material.
  6. A version of NPIN specifically designed for portable devices (iPhone, Blackberry, Palm).

NPIN Personnel

Susan Rieff - Executive Director
As Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Susan Rieff provides oversight, direction, and institutional support for the Native Plant Information Network. As a former employee of the National Wildlife Federation and advocate for conservation efforts, Ms. Rieff brings National experience to this project.

Damon Waitt, Ph.D. - Director Native Plant Information Network
Dr. Damon Waitt holds a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Texas in Austin where he studied the evolutionary ecology and population genetics of Phlox. Dr. Waitt has served on the faculty at Saint Edward's University and Southwestern University and has extensive experience developing web-based information resources. Dr. Waitt serves as the Wildflower Center's botanical authority and is the author of the Wildflower Center's Native Plant Information Network.

Joe Marcus - Native Plant Information Specialist
Joe Marcus holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from the University of Georgia in Athens. Mr. Marcus developed and maintained the system for management of plant accession records at the Wildflower Center and provides support for all aspects of the Native Plant Information Network.

Philip Hawkins - Webmaster
Philip Hawkins was hired in 2006 to enhance the speed, reliability, and performance of the network. Mr. Hawkins has a Bachelors degree from Texas Christian University and extensive experience developing open source web applications.

Melissa Zilic – Conservator and Librarian
Melissa Zilic manages the Wildflower Center’s internal library and serves as the archivist for the Center’s image collections. Ms. Zilic has a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Illinois.

Wildflower Center Volunteers
Hundreds of volunteers have contributed thousands of hours of their time to research information, scan images, develop databases, and manage collections. Without their help and support, this project would not have been possible.

NPIN Chronicles

Date
Event
9/11/2008 Debut of Spanish language website including 5 artículos en español.
8/21/2008 Suppliers associate program reaches 80 associates offering discount to Wildflower Center members.
8/6/2008 Batch email to Suppliers results in 103 updating entries in directory.
7/11/2008 Added 417 plant images from the Harry T. Cliffe Collection.
6/21/2008 Updated Plant Distribution to include regional USDA Native Status and added USDA Native Status symbols to the glossary.
6/1/2008 Added last 148 images from the Wasowski Collection to the Image Gallery.
5/22/2008 Added 950 images from the Wasowski Collection to the Image Gallery.
4/1/2008 Added 955 images from the Wasowski Collection to the Image Gallery.
3/25/2008 Added location search feature to National Suppliers Directory and National Organizations Directory.
3/19/2008 Converted Clearinghouse Articles into How To feature under NPIN main navigation.
3/12/2008 Added Google Maps to Suppliers and Organizations details pages.
3/5/2008 Added U.S. Image Map as primary navigation for Recommended Species and links to state lists for Suppliers and Organizations
2/8/2008 Reorganized Recommended Species page and added Just for Texans Section. Also added two new collections: Hummingbird Plants for Central Texas and Native Plants for Container Gardens in Central Texas.
2/1/2008 Added 951 images from the Wasowski Collection and 27 new plant records to the Native Plant Database.
1/30/2008 Culled all Supplier records missing email information in preparation for Supplier Directory rebuild.
1/20/2008 Debut beta version of Mr. Smarty Plants mapping application.
1/1/2008 Updated Canadian Provinces in plant distribution table based on Evergreen plant database. Also added definitions for province abbreviations to glossary.
12/26/2007 Added 959 images from the Wasowski Collection.
12/18/2007 Added page for Native Alternatives to Invasive Species.
12/6/2007 Added 268 images of Texas Endemics from photgrapher Bill Carr.
10/27/2007 Implemented tracker system to log changes to NPIN databases. Also added 54 images from photgrapher Tom Muller.
10/1/2007 Added 346 images from the wildflower seedling recognition project. This was an effort by the Center in the late 80’s to photo document the different growth stages (cradle to grave) of wildflower species commonly found in mail order seed packets. About 100 species were tracked, about 75% of which were native to the U.S. Aerial and side views of the plants were taken at the first true leaves stage, mid-growth, and flowering stage.
8/18/2007 Added 344 images from photgrapher Melody Lytle and 180 images from photographer Fran Cox. Added bibliography titles to plant detail page.
8/7/2007 Added rating system and user comments to Mr. Smarty Plants and rating system to Image Gallery.
7/28/2007 Added Recommended Species lists for all states in the continental U.S.
6/6/2007 Completely re-designed wildflower.org website debuts. NPIN and Wildflower Center content integrated into a single web application.
4/6/2007 NPIN’s Native Plant Database and Image Gallery become additional resource links on USDA PLANTS website.
3/30/2007 Harry C. Cliffe Bexar Regional Herbarium containing 1160 digitized herbarium sheets from the San Antonio region is integrated wih Native Plant Database.
1/1/2007 New and improved Native Plant Information Network makes its debut. All databases converted to MySQL and pages to PHP.
2/10/2006 Added Native Plant Society of Texas Image Special Collection to Image Gallery including 691 images by noted horticulturist, Benny Simpson.
1/24/2006 Added H. L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants Special Collection to Image Gallery.
11/25/2005 Ask the Expert becomes Mr. Smarty Plants managed by volunteer Nan Hampton.
8/10/2005 Excluded non-native (introduced) species from search criteria in Native Plants Database.
3/24/2005 Added remainder of Image Gallery Plants to Native Plant Directory. Total number of species=7,175. Second Melody Lytle image contribution added to Image Gallery.
2/28/2005 Completed conversion of eNature and Evergreen fields to Native Plant Directory. Added Introduced Species filter to special collections.
2/17/2005 Added Introduced Species list to Special Collections under Native Plant Directory.
2/1/2005 Converted Native Plant Bibliography database to online web application. Created Botanical Glossary using Loughmiller's "Texas Wildflowers" as foundation.
1/18/2005 Updated authorities in Native Plants Database using USDA PLANTS. Updated missing common names in Native Plants Database and in Image Gallery using USDA PLANTS. Verified Image Gallery Taxonomy using USDA PLANTS. Changed Native Status from ITIS to USDA convention in Image Gallery and Native Plant Directory.
12/20/2004 Merged fields from eNature, Evergreen, and Chesapeake Bay Field Office to Native Plant Directory bringing the total number of taxa to 5,280.
3/31/2004 Debut of Ask the Expert.
1/16/2004 Fee-based listing service put into effect for National Suppliers Directory.
12/1/2003 Debut of National Events Calendar and revised National Organizations Directory.
10/1/2003 A completely redeveloped NPIN makes its debut.
6/1/2003 Wildflower Center received a $36,000 Native Plant Conservation Initiative grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to begin Phase II of NPIN development. Center makes substantial improvements to NPIN.

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