Trees and Shrubs of the Campus of Iowa State University Aldworth, S. J, 1998. (Paper and CD-ROM, price not given) 215 pp. Iowa State University Printing Services, Iowa State University, USA. System Requirements: PC compatible computer with Windows 95+ or a Macintosh computer and a CD-ROM drive (Netscape Navigator is required, but is included on the disc).
After using this CD-ROM and perusing the accompanying guide book, I was left with a desire to visit the Iowa State University (ISU) campus and take a tour of the 100 trees included in this multimedia package. I also wish that more university campuses had a guide like this. Although this CD-ROM and book is intended for use on the ISU campus, it would be useful to anyone interested in learning more about trees and their identification, ecology and uses.
The creation of this multimedia package was the result of a master's degree project by Aldworth. It was modeled after a previous book published by the ISU Botany Club called Trees of Central Campus (1971 and 1976). The first edition covered 29 species and the second edition covered 47 species. It was originally intended to be used as a reference guide for students in the campus" dendrology course. The current package, with 100 species, considerably expands the previous coverage.
Much of the material is identical in the CD-ROM and the book, although the presentation of the material differs in some respects. The major difference is that the book displays features of the plants as line drawings, while the CD-ROM uses color photos. The book is also based on the concept of walking tours organized around certain parts of the campus, each of the species being arranged according to the portion of the campus in which it occurs. The location of each tree and shrub is identified by number on detailed campus maps.
The CD-ROM is designed using HTML, the familiar format used on the Internet for web pages. In fact, the entire contents of the CD-ROM are identical to what is available on the ISU campus web pages at http://Project.bio.iastate.edu/trees/campustrees/ISU_trees.html. The advantage to the CD-ROM is that access is much faster, especially when loading the abundant pictures that are a part of the guide. Instead of being arranged by location on campus, the species are arranged into alphabetical, hypertexted indices, one by scientific name and the other by common name.
The most striking feature of the CD-ROM is the large number of pictures that are included. For each species there is at least a picture of the tree or shrub taken on the campus and a map showing where it can be found on campus, as well as pictures showing flowers and/or fruits, leaves, and bark. Additional pictures are included for some species. Access to the variety of pictures is by clicking on small icons on the left side of the front page for each species. There are also pages, accessible by icons, to the distribution (with distribution maps) and ecology of each species, as well as pages telling about uses by humans and other species.
The CD-ROM has a few unique features that are particularly useful. Clicking on one of the icons on the front page for each species takes the user to an information page about that species, which also contains links to line drawings comparing the current species with related species. From the start page for the program, there is also a link called "natural habitat," which takes the user to a page with a color figure outlining the basic habitat types in which the trees and shrubs in the program are naturally found. Clicking on any of the names for these habitat types takes the user to a brief description page, which also contains a list of species common to that habitat. Also included is a brief glossary and a bibliography which can be accessed from the front page or from clicking on words within other pages.
It's hard to find anything about this multimedia package to criticize. If anything, it should be expanded in the future to include a little more taxonomic information. It would be useful to anyone who is looking for computer based botanical guides. More importantly, I would suggest this as a blueprint for producing other such packages for other university campuses and even for arboreta and botanical gardens.
- Bryan Ness, Department of Biology, Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA
Plant Family Album, an Interactive Botanical Review, Vol. 1: The Rosidae Waterway, M.J. and H. C. Rimmer, 1996. (CD-ROM, price not given). System Requirements: A PC compatible computer with Windows 3.1 or 95 and a CD-ROM.
This multimedia CD-ROM was developed using Asymetric Multimedia Toolbook 4.0 and is interactive in several ways. Throughout the program, any word in the text that appears in blue can be clicked on and the user will either be taken to another part of the tutorial that explains the word or phrase, or a small window will pop up with a detailed definition. Many of the words and phrases are extensively cross-referenced in this manner. There is also a highly interactive section devoted to review quizzes. Rather than the traditional "fill in the blank" or matching, involving writing in the correct letter, most of the quizzes use the mouse to drag text bubbles onto pictures or to draw lines between terms and definitions. Navigation throughout the program is also interactive, with buttons for the main menu, going forward or backward, and for jumping to certain parts of the program. Overall, the program is easy to use, informative, and graphically pleasing. Although the documentation on the CD-ROM says it will work with Windows 3.1, without reference to processor speed, judging by its speed on the Pentium (266 MHz) with Windows 95 I used to review it, it would probably operate unacceptably slow for many users on a 486 operating in Windows 3.1.
On the opening page of the program, new users are immediately directed to follow a different route than experienced users. The new users section lists the credits and contains a dedication page to Dorothy E. Swales, Curator Emeritus of the McGill Herbarium. On the dedication page users can also click on a button to go to a biography page for Swales. Proceeding takes a user past the credits page to a page that explains the basic ways to navigate through the program, which almost seems extraneous, once a user has already gotten this far.
The Main Menu allows entry, by the click of a button, to any of four different sections: "Introduction to Families," "North American Flora," "Review Quiz," and "Glossary." There is also a smaller button at the bottom of the page that leads directly to the "Family Index."
The Introduction to Plant Families is essentially a text based discussion of the taxonomic principles used to classify flowering plants, focused primarily on the Rosidae. Throughout the discussion are hypertexted words and phrases (in blue) that lead the user to more in-depth information on related topics, with up to date bibliographies. As a part of the discussion there is a brief introduction to the many classification systems that have been proposed, including those by Engler and Prantl, Bessey, Cronquist, Dahlgren and others. A few paragraphs about the use of DNA sequence data in evaluating classification systems is also included. Paging completely through this section leads to the Family Index, in which buttons representing each of the 40 families included in the program are arranged by order according to Cronquist (1988). Clicking on a button leads to an in-depth set of pages describing the family, complete with numerous figures. Continuing one more page takes the user to the Family Index Cards, where families can be arranged within their orders according to Cronquist (1988), according to orders alphabetically, and by themselves alphabetically. Clicking on the family names on any of these takes the user to the same family pages as mentioned above.
The individual family pages are the core of the program. Certain of the larger and more common families are treated in greater depth, but all the families are treated to a moderate extent. Within the family pages are detailed descriptions of the morphological characters used to define the family, complete with color pictures. Pictures include not only external traits, but also cross sections of ovaries and flower and fruit dissections. Pictures of some of the major genera are included and each set of pages concludes with a concise one page summary of the family.
The North American Flora section contains pictures of 120 North American species from the Rosidae. Along with the pictures are a set of icons to the right, which when clicked, cause windows to pop up giving the species name, family, habitat in which the plant is found, edibility, medicinal uses, toxicity, and other miscellaneous information. The pictures are accessible from a scientific name or common name index, or the user can page through the pictures sequentially, and if the number of the picture is already known the user can jump directly to it. The pictures are of excellent quality, although the choice of which species to include doesn't seem to follow a plan. For example, some genera, like Potentilla and Acer, are represented by several pictures, whereas other large genera, like Astragalus or Camissonia, are completely absent. The pictures that are included seem biased toward more northern and eastern species, probably reflecting the geographical location of the authors.
The Review Quiz section is extensive. The quizzes are arranged on individual pages as "miniature" quizzes. The Family Recognition section has 35 pages, and the matching and multiple choice sections have 45 and 25 pages respectively, so there is a large amount of review material. The family recognition questions involve showing the user one or more pictures of plants, usually focusing on flowers or fruits. A list of family names is arranged on buttons and when the user clicks on the correct name they can advance to the next page. If they choose the wrong name, they are given reasons why the choice is incorrect and they have to try again. Unfortunately there is no way to ask the program to reveal the correct answer. Another difficulty is that the pictures sometimes don't give enough information to easily determine the family, so that the family recognition exercises may be discouraging at times for students. The matching and multiple choice quiz sections are simply more intricate family recognition exercises where multiple pictures are shown and the user has to drag family names to the correct pictures or draw lines between the names and correct answers. Some of the quizzes in these sections also deal with recognition of plant parts, especially flower parts. Again, some of the quiz questions seemed like they would be a bit difficult for the average student, but maybe that leaves an opportunity for advanced students to be challenged.
A final section is the Glossary. Unlike a standard print glossary, this glossary is picture-based. It is arranged by plant part, rather than alphabetically. For example, if the user wants to know what a placenta or locule is, he would click on "Gynoecium parts 2" to go to the appropriate page. This arrangement has the advantage that related terms are grouped together for easy comparison, but without an alphabetical listing it can be hard to find a term sometimes.
Overall this looks like it would be a very useful teaching tool for anyone teaching a plant taxonomy course, and could even be used as a supplement to a general botany course. The "Vol. 1" in the title implies that there will be more editions to come, and I hope this will be the case. Although the Rosidae encompasses a large number of families, there are many families left. There is no mention anywhere about what class will be covered in volume 2 and beyond, although I would vote for the Asteridae or maybe Liliidae. Let's hope more editions are forthcoming.
- Bryan Ness, Department of Biology, Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA
Cronquist, A. 1988. The Evolution and Classification of Flowering Plants, 2nd Edition. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY.[Postscript: Marcia Waterway has written the PSB Editorial Office to point out that the true publication date of the CD-ROM is 1998. The accompanying booklet is dated 1996! The CD-ROM is hard to find. For more information see http://www.agrenv.mcgill.ca/plant/pfa/. -SR 6/16/99]