UW Today

August 3, 2011

Collaboration yields guide-to-go for flowers at Mount Rainier

Shakespeares Juliet may have thought a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but people who encounter wildflowers while hiking seem to think that names are pretty important.

David Giblin, left, and Donovan Tracy collaborated to create a guidebook to flowers on Mount Rainier.

David Giblin, left, and Donovan Tracy collaborated to create a guidebook to flowers on Mount Rainier.Mary Levin

“I think its something innate about us as humans that likes to have the names of things,” said David Giblin, collections manager of the UW Herbarium, which is part of the Burke Museum. “When we encounter a wildflower and it captures our attention, its rewarding to know its name.”

With the help of Donovan Tracy, Giblin is making it easier for those name seekers with a new pamphlet, Alpine Flowers of Mt. Rainier. Giblin provided the expertise in plant identification and Tracy provided the photos for the 6 ½ by 10-inch pamphlet that opens out to display 90 of the most common wildflowers that grow above the tree line in Mount Rainier National Park. (See slideshow below for the flowers.)  Each entry includes at least one photo of the flower, its common and scientific names and a brief description.

Giblin said the idea was born when he saw a similar publication for Vancouver Island and immediately thought it would be a good idea for the national parks in Washington. But things didnt really take off until he met Tracy.

A UW alum, Tracy is a financial adviser who has long been both a hiker and an amateur photographer. He got a guidebook on the flowers of Mount Rainier, and “I just thought maybe I could find all of them and take my own photo.” That led him to take numerous day hikes at the park, turning his camera on every wildflower he saw.

About four years ago, Tracy said, he created a website for his photos, called “The Flowers of Rainier.” Thats when he began doing research on the flowers, trying to get the correct name and some background information to go with the photos.  Once a year he sent out updates to a small email list of interested people, telling them what had been added since the previous year.

Last Year Tracy also posted his annual update on the Washington Native Plant Societys blog. And thats where Giblin saw it, took a look at Tracys website and decided maybe the time had come to do the pamphlet hed been thinking about. He invited Tracy to the herbarium, and the two agreed on a collaboration.

The resulting pamphlet is waterproof and tear resistant — designed for use on the trails. In it, the flowers are sorted by color to help hikers identify whats in front of them.

“There are 900 species of plants at Mount Rainier,” Giblin said. “But most people go up to Sunrise and Paradise in August to hike the wildflower meadows. So we included the most obvious of those flowers in the pamphlet. I think something like this fills a niche. Most people arent interested in a book with a lot of detailed information. Theyre satisfied getting just the name and a few facts. That gives them a jumping off point to learn more about the plants.”

The pamphlet was published by the Burke Museum. Giblin raised the money for production costs — largely from tuition for a class sponsored by the Burke — and Tracy donated his photos. The pamphlet is available for $8.95 at a variety of venues, including the Burke Museum Gift Shop, Third Place Books, Metsker Maps, Seattle Audubon, and at gift shops throughout Mount Rainier. It is also available online through Discover Your Northwest. Store orders have already covered the printing costs. Any revenues earned will go to the Burke, as Tracy also waived all rights to the profits.

“If you try to make money out of a hobby,” he said, “you ruin the hobby. When I was shooting the photo for the cover of the pamphlet, it was late in the day and I was running around trying to get it done, and I thought, ‘Wouldnt it be rotten if you were doing this for a living? Youve got to shoot and youve got to get results. I just go up and hike and take pictures.”

Meanwhile, if youd rather have a mobile app for your smart phone than a pamphlet to identify flowers, Giblin is working on one of those too. The app will sift through a database of 1,100 species found in Washington state through an online form filled out by the user.

“By choosing things like whether the leaves are alternate or opposite, simple or compound, what the color is, what the time of year is, what the habitat is, you get a subset of the 1,100 and then you visually do a match to whats in front of you,” Giblin said.

For the app, Giblin is partnering with photographer Mark Turner, who collaborated with writer Phyllis Gustafson on a wildflower book covering the whole Northwest. Two volunteer programmers are creating the code — one for the iPhone and the other for the Android. Giblin hopes the app will be ready by the spring of 2012.

Hed also like to create pamphlets for Washingtons other national parks.

Giblin is convinced theres a market for all this because of the popularity of the Burkes WTU Image Collection. The collection, a web database, provides a key to all the plants and lichens of Washington state. It contains more than 33,000 photos, many of them submitted by photographers like Tracy. The public is welcome to use the database, but the photographers retain the copyright to their work.

“Its one of the most visited resources within the Burke Museum website,” Giblin said. “It gets about 200,000 unique visits annually.”

So, whats in a name? A lot, it would seem, especially if its connected to a plant.

 

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