Plant I.D.: There’s An App For That

Let your smartphone tell you all about that mystery wildflower you found on today's walk.

by Lisa Munniksma

Maybe you have a plant growing in your garden where you swear you planted something different. Or there could be a weed popping up in your pasture that you have to figure out how to kill. You can always post a photo of your unknown flora to Facebook and hope one of your garden-savvy friends can identify it—but now you also have a chance to have it properly identified via apps on your phone.

Apps with this purpose have been around for a while, and there’s a new one overseas—Pl@ntNet—that has plant people particularly excited. It uses visual recognition software, which looks at an image that you submit and gives you a host of information about the plant in question. It’s a little freaky because it just reminds me that a software program somewhere out there is probably scanning my image to identify me, too. On the practical-farming side of it, though, this is pretty cool.

While the new Pl@ntNet app won’t yet help us in the U.S.—just Western Europe, the Indian Ocean region and South America right now—there are other plant-ID apps that we can use. Check them out.


The identity of flowering plants, birds, butterflies and fish are at your disposal with NatureGate. (Flowering plants are free—the others are available for a fee.) NatureGate can be connected to social-media apps, too, so you can share what you’ve learned with your friends.


FlowerChecker had 112,394 plants, moss, lichen and fungi in its database as of this writing. I’m kind of a plant person, and I can’t name 1/10 that many plants, so I have to believe this app is legit. There’s a team of botanists working here, not just a computer program, so it might take some time—usually less than an hour—and costs $1 per ID. You don’t pay anything if you manage to stump them with your query.

Garden Compass

Also with a team of horticultural experts on its staff, Garden Compass is an app with a corresponding website that offers gardening advice and info. Some features are free; some you have to pay for.

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My Garden Answers

Plant identification, plant pests and diseases, and gardening advice come with the My Garden Answers app. The app keeps track of your questions and answers so you can come back to the advice that’s been tailored to you without a bunch of searching.

LikeThat Garden

Ornamental gardeners and everyone who appreciates flowers can search thousands of flower species with this app’s photos. The LikeThat Garden app will find your flower and give you all kinds of info on the species. It works with butterflies, too!


For trees specifically, Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution came up with Leafsnap. The app just needs a photo of the leaf, and it can identify trees found in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. The developers are working to include all trees of the continental U.S. There’s a Leafsnap app for the United Kingdom, too.

Of course, like anything you’re downloading off of the Internet for your own use, you should check out the app’s reviews for operational and safety information that you’re comfortable with before you install it on your phone. Then let us know how your plant ID is going!

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