|This buttonbush is unique enough to be |
identified by apps; others are not so easy
Someone suggests a smartphone app or a Facebook plant group and off you go. Your success depends on a number of factors, and I’d like to offer some thoughts on getting the most from your efforts.
- Smartphone apps (software): these tools are getting better but they are only as good as their data, which could be incomplete (so your picture is being compared against an incomplete set of possibilities). My suggestion is to try it out on a plant or two that you already know and see how it does.
Pro: Their guesses might point you in the right direction even if they didn’t give you the final answer.
Con: You should verify their answer against other sources, taking into account the appropriate range for the plant they are suggesting (one source guessed a plant that wasn’t even in the US).
- Internet groups (real people on Facebook and websites like Houzz and others): these groups can be friendly and helpful, prodding you for more information to help narrow down the choices.
Pro: Their queries for more information (are there hairs on the leaves, cut open the fruit to see how many seeds) can help you learn more about what to look for when identifying plants.
Con: Not every person who answers is actually knowledgeable, unfortunately, so take every answer as a suggestion that you can use to look up comparisons.
- Search engines (Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go): I think that effective searching is almost an art, but with practice you can improve on your results. I am really only familiar with Google, but I make use of both the regular search and the image searching function. Here is a page that I find very helpful with identifying native plants in Georgia: Name That Plant.
Pro: There is a lot of data out there and, like using the other two, your search might give you more clues to follow even if it doesn’t give you the perfect answer.
Con: You are really on your own with interpreting the results, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. A word of caution using the image search – sometimes a picture is not the plant that you searched for, but it comes up because your plant might be mentioned in the description or some accompanying text.
|Example of using iNaturalist with |
Virginia creeper photo
Bottom line is get out there, try things, learn from your efforts, and keep going. Being curious about identifying things was exactly what got me started. Tools are great as long as you understand how to get the best out of them and when to seek further help.
Here are just a few of the available plant id apps for smartphones (apps are free to download unless otherwise noted). Some apps note that certain OS levels are required or needed for best experience. All are available for iOS, most are also available for Android:
iNaturalist - not technically listed in the App store for “plant identification” but it’s a good tool. Use “observe” function and then choose “what did you see” for suggestions. Developed in the US.
PlantSnap - $.99 at App store, this one seems to have the most ratings. The app says it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the matches (probably not uncommon approach). Developed in the US.
Leafsnap - one of the earliest apps but now poorly rated on App Store. Uses recognition software. Developed in the US.
PictureThis - mixed reviews, the app says it uses artificial intelligence to make the matches. Developed in China.
Garden Answers - One review says that you can pay a small fee to have an expert review your picture; not sure if that applies in all cases. One review definitely sounded fake. Owned by a US company, but it is not clear where it was developed.
|An example of a plant group on Facebook; look for local groups too like |
Native Plant Groups and state Master Gardeners. The first answer is not always right!