Plant apps can help identify plants and trees


ETTRICK, VA — Plant-and tree-identifying apps can help you avoid stepping in some poison ivy by telling you that it’s just a blackberry bramble.


Apps like iNaturalist, LeafSnap, PictureThis® and PlantSnap are handy tools that can help people learn about surrounding flora. They can turn a walk in the park into a learning adventure with just a few taps.


“It’s a pretty neat technology,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist. “I think it can be useful and educational.”


Horticulturalist Mark Viette said the apps are also helpful for someone planning a garden. “It’s a great way people can learn about plants—if it’s a plant they can grow or not.”


Viette said he frequently gets pictures and questions from homeowners inquiring about what’s in their backyards.


“Say they purchased a house that had a garden 20 or 30 years ago, and there are certain plants they want to determine what they are. Trees especially—a lot of people don’t really know what trees they have.”


The apps can help with planning what and where to plant. Many provide a wealth of resources about climate zones, light, watering, fertilizing requirements and cultural information—in just a few seconds. Viette added they’re also great for identifying which plants are native or invasive and those that are poisonous or “can be troublesome for us in our gardens.”


Mullins added that they can even diagnose problems.


Often the apps will provide additional information on plant health, pests and diseases afflicting a plant, and potential treatment options. Some allow users to track their plants’ watering and fertilizing schedules.


“That’s key too; to have a lot of information,” Mullins said.


Though countless plant-identifying options are available in iOS and Android app stores, “they’re probably only as good as the database they’re working off of,” Mullins noted.


Many of the applications, like PlantSnap and iNaturalist, use artificial intelligence and visual recognition software to identify plants. After the user snaps a crisp, clear photo, the apps pulls from extensive databases to match the plant or select a few of its closest comparisons—allowing the user to make the final determination. Other apps rely on panelists or community feedback, particularly if a plant is afflicted with a disease or pest.

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