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NFC Gives Trees a Touch of Blarney

Ireland's Blarney Castle Gardens is applying NFC RFID tags to its collection, in order to communicate information about the plants to staff members, as well as to visitors of the castle and Blarney Stone.
By Claire Swedberg

In November, employees began applying the tags to the trees, either directly to each tree or as a hangtag—in both cases, near informational plaques. Each tag is encoded with a unique identifier, and when it is first attached to a specimen, a phone running the ZipNFC Garden Manager app is used to read the tag ID number and, at the same time, record the tree's location, via the handset's GPS functionality. Personnel then enter such data as the tree's species, the region it comes from and other information that might interest visitors. This data is then available to anyone equipped an NFC-enabled phone, without requiring an app to read it.

Other data, however, is available only to staff members, via the Garden Manager app. After inputting an access code into the app, authorized users can then view information such as when a specific tree was planted and pruned, along with a description of any damage or illnesses it has sustained. They can also write new data to the system, such as the results of an inspection.

ZipNFC's 28-millimeter hangtag is used for juvenile trees and shrubs, by looping it around a branch adjacent to an informational plaque.
Although only 300 trees have been tagged to date, Whitbourn says, the system is already proving to save time for staff members in the garden, as well as creating a more accurate record of what is being done there. He notes that he can access data at any time regarding what work was done, and on which trees, on any given day. The software could also be used to manage other information, such as how well trees grow in specific areas of the garden, when a particular area is being neglected, or where disease is being found.

Although the NFC data is not yet being offered to the public, Whitbourn says he expects to begin advertising the NFC system to new visitors in the entrance brochure, so that they can start learning about the trees in the garden with their NFC-enabled phones this spring. A visitor would simply hold the phone near the plaque where the species name is printed, and view a picture of the tree, as well as additional data about its origins and preferred growing environment. That person could also view his or her location on a map of the garden, based on GPS data from the phone. In the future, Humphries says, the software will enable users of the Garden Manager app to locate specific trees by logging into the server and inputting each particular tree they are looking for, which will then be displayed on a map of the garden and forest.

ZipNFC's Chris Humphries
Once the trees are all tagged, Blarney Castle's garden staff will begin attaching tags to rhododendrons and other shrubs, of which there are more than 2,000. According to Whitbourn, the castle might opt to use the tags to provide visitors with information that could help them learn whether, and how, to plant a particular shrub in their own garden.

Tags are also being applied to batches of seedlings in the castle nursery, in order to track when they were planted and what species they are. The ID number encoded on the tag could be married to a tag that would then be applied to the tree or shrub once it is planted, thereby creating a history for the garden staff that begins with the seedling stage.

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