Q&A: Can you recommend apps or websites for plant identification?

taking a cell phone photo of a plant
A well-focused photo of a flower can be uploaded to an app for identification. Photo: Dan Adler

Q: Can you recommend apps or websites to help with plant identification?

A: The Picture This app does a good job with basic plant identification and works both on iPhone and Android. Take a good clear photo of any distinguishing features of your plant (e.g., flowers, fruits, leaf arrangement) for the best results. When you upload your photo to the app, it uses artificial intelligence technology to compare the details of your plant to those in its database of 10,000+ species. It will come up with the most promising matches within seconds.

In my experience, Picture This is not always accurate, but it does well most of the time. It is the best app I have found for plant identification. It will often get you to the correct plant family or genus, if not the exact species. The app also provides information about growing conditions and care tips for your plant.

Another good app is iNaturalist. This app was developed jointly by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society and also works both on iPhone and Android. It has a large community of users, including scientists who contribute to it and use some of the data for their research.

taking a photo of a leaf with phone

Similar to Picture This, you can submit your photos to iNaturalist and the app searches a database to find the best match. You also can crowdsource an answer by asking for help from people who use the app. Knowledgeable members of the iNaturalist community will identify and verify your observations. In addition to plants, iNaturalist identifies insects, birds, other animals, and even fungi.

There are basic videos online to help you learn how to use the features of iNaturalist. Some nature centers and community groups occasionally offer hands-on workshops to learn and practice using the app. For example, if you are in the vicinity of Montgomery County, Maryland, the Maryland Native Plant Society’s January 28, 2020, meeting in Kensington will focus on how to use some of the more advanced features of iNaturalist (Discover the Full Capabilities of iNaturalist).

In my experience, Picture This has been more accurate with plant identification whereas iNaturalist is stronger for identifying insects and other animals. Since these tools are still developing, it is a good idea to check the results with another reference to verify the identification. For example, you can submit your photo(s) to the Home and Garden Information Center’s Ask an Expert team if you would like further assistance or more information about our local plants in particular. As more people use and contribute to plant identification apps, surely they will improve and become more refined.

potted plant and a laptop computer

There are also several Facebook groups that are helpful for identifying plants. The ones I have found most useful are Plant Identification, Maryland Native Plant Society Discussion Group, and Capital Naturalist. There are many others. In your Facebook account, find the Groups section and search for your topic of interest, whether it be houseplants, trees, flowers, or something else. There are groups for everyone and you can use them to crowdsource an answer or simply follow along and learn more about your subject of interest. Be sure to read and follow the rules of the groups you join.

Have fun, plant explorers!

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center