Happy Birthday to the Plants Map Community!
Two years ago this month, an idea born of Bill and Tracy Blevins’ search for ways to organize,document, and label the plants on their property launched at a startup competition in Fredericksburg, Va., and the world began to discover Plants Map.
Plants Map combines the fun and discovery of social networking with the utility of creating your own organized, mobile-friendly plant identification database. On top of this, it makes ordering durable, attractive, custom plant tags and signs with QR codes linking to your online plant journal easy and affordable.
This combination of features is why Plants Map has grown in popularity among plant enthusiasts across age and gender demographics as well as more than 250 horticultural, botanical and environmental focused organizations around the country. The community has now cataloged over 17,500 plant stories making it the fastest growing crowd-sourced plant database. The idea came from piles of photos, plant tags, and binders of plant lists and notes that Tracy Blevins kept over the years about her home landscapes.
“I tried Excel, I tried some databases and apps, I tried Pinterest and other community sites,” Tracy Blevins said. “Nothing really worked for me to keep all the plant information the way I wanted it organized in one place. They all had limitations in some way.”
When Bill Blevins began collecting and planting hundreds conifers at the couple’s Virginia home, he began to understand his wife’s frustration with documenting his collection and keeping the specimen plants attractively labeled as well.
Plants Map was conceived as a solution to these problems, but it quickly became much more.
“This was originally a tool for people like us, who wanted an easier way to keep notes and photos organized as well as accessible on a mobile device,” Bill Blevins said. “But it turned out immediately that organizations with public landscapes like universities, botanical gardens, community parks were having the same issues as the individual collector.”
“We were solving a problem that we didn’t even know yet they had as well.”
As its pilot project during the startup weekend competition, Plants Map asked visitors to the website to purchase plant tags for Fredericksburg’s Cossey Botanical Park Arboretum, which relies completely on Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer efforts.
“We had people buy tags for Cossey park who had never even heard of it, even in our own community.” Tracy Blevins said. “Some of the donors were from other states that discovered us on social media during the competition. People were validating the concept of the need for interactive tags at these public landscapes so that people could learn more about the plants and the people, volunteers, or organizations that planted them.”
Soon the tag line ‘Connecting People With Plants’ would evolve to have different meanings for website visitors and users based on their Plants Map experience and needs.
One of the very first users on the site was Eric Wiseman, a professor of urban forestry at Virginia Tech who has used Plants Map to catalog a teaching garden about utility line friendly trees and the Virginia Big Tree Program, which tracks the state’s largest trees by species.
The Gardens at Heather Farm in California sees Plants Map’s mobile and mapping capabilities as a way to make it easy to hand off labeling of large collections to volunteers. The Florida Tech Botanical Garden sees it as a valuable tool to spread awareness among potential new volunteers, campus students and visitors. The Daniel Boone Native Gardens saw value in having a cloud-based, easy to use cataloging system that could serve as a recording keeping system for donors and grants and an educational tool for staff, volunteers, and visitors.
Academics are also drawn to Plants Map. The University of the District Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences documents its experiments with urban farming on the site, and both college professors and high school teachers have used Plants Map to engage students in observing and appreciating the natural world.
“What I’m learning is just how absolutely huge the horticultural world is,” said co-founder Chris Muldrow, an admitted non-gardener who lent his programming knowledge to the project because he was fascinated by the potential to solve what he saw as a data problem.
“Interest in plants touches people in so many places that you don’t think about. I’m realizing what a role plants have to play in healthy communities.”
Plants Mapis becoming a community itself. And it’s growing in an interesting way demographically. Unlike other sites or apps, the users are as diverse in age as they are in botanical interest.
Tracy Blevins reports, “We have a split of male/female visitors with male, millennials being one of largest demographics. We see a very healthy distribution of age range from 18 to over 65. This is exciting when you are trying to help connect an older generation with a younger generation to keep an interest in gardening and horticulture thriving.”
In 2016, the team will encourage users to take advantage of the tools Plants Map offers for following and connecting with other users, whether they be fellow gardeners, botanical gardens, plant societies, professionals or businesses. “We want 2016 to be a year of growth not only for us but for the individuals and organizations on Plants Map. Starting a profile and adding a plant collection is just the beginning of what you can do. We are building a support page of tips and tools to help maximize what they have built to grow their followers and create a network of connections.”
“I am passionate about Plants Map becoming a community of diverse organizations that can educate and connect with people beyond a visit to their landscape and our website. I want Plants Map to be the tool that helps them gain volunteers, members, customers and a support network,” Tracy Blevins said. “To me Plants Map is more than a social niche platform. We can provide context and information behind the plant photos that people share and network people and organizations in a meaningful way.”
Making these connections has benefits for both organizations and individual users.
Every time you follow another organization or individual on Plants Map, you customize the feed that appears on your personal home page on the site, allowing you to see and discover more plants that match your interests. It allows for a large knowledge base of shared experiences and information that can also be dialed into a specific plant interest or geographic area.
Organizations that encourage supporters to follow them on the site create a ready-made channel for publicizing events, news, volunteer needs, plant & collection updates and other information.
Plants Map will soon launch new features aimed at making the site a full-service digital solution for public gardens, nurseries and other plant-focused businesses and organizations.
A calendar tool will allow organizations to post events, share them with their followers and even re-publish the feed on their own websites.
A Resources section with E-commerce capabilities will allow plant- and garden-focused businesses to sell products to users who discover them right on the Plants Map website.
And a constantly growing suite of customizable features will continue to make it easier for these businesses and organizations to find and communicate with the people who need and want their products, to organize and track their plant collections and to be found more easily on the Internet.
“These business owners work all day in their shops serving customers and caring for their plants,” Bill Blevins said. “Then after closing they have to figure out how to get found by search engines, update five different social media platforms and e-commerce sites, write blog posts and more. They don’t need to do that anymore.
“We can help them get discovered, because we are going to have the largest crowd-sourced database of real plant information in the world.”
Explore Plants Map’s growing community of plant-lovers, all brought together by an idea that started with the conviction that there had to be a better way to store valuable garden records than piles of photos, tags and notebooks.