Native Plant Toolbox: Useful Plant Identification Apps
By Doug Lockard
There’s a lot to be said for investing in courses like the South Carolina Native Plant Certification and/or the Clemson Master Gardeners. I’ve taken both courses and volunteered for both organizations over the past several years, as well as reading dozens of books, attending numerous seminars, luncheons, and other related events. I’ve found the learning to be fun as well as educational. It’s provided me with a foundation from which to pursue my personal goals.
That said, the sheer number of plants I encounter at home, hiking, at botanical gardens, and in nurseries is staggering. Just identifying them all is a challenge, and when you also need to understand their characteristics… Well, it’s a lot.
But today’s technology in the form of plant ID apps provides powerful tools that can help expand our knowledge while we’re on the move.
In the garden and stumble on a new plant? To pull or not to pull, that is the question… Is the new interloper a volunteer of a desirable plant, just a weed — or worse, an invasive species?
Whip out your phone, snap a picture, and within seconds one of today’s new crowd-sourced apps will identify the plant for you. These apps have a high degree of accuracy, and provide a wealth of useful information to help you make the “right-plant-right-place” decision.
See a plant at the botanical garden or in the wild and wonder if it would work in your garden? Just snap and learn, then hit save so you can call up the plant when you get home.
Here are a two of the apps I use. I recommend you download them and try them out!
This crowd-sourced AI-powered database processes upwards of a million snaps a day and claims 98% accuracy for plant identification. Personally, I’ve found that maybe 5% of the time I feel the need to cross validate, but generally the accuracy is fantastic. I love this app! It’s super-easy: Just snap a pic and it quickly pulls up the plant and a plethora of information about it, including sun, water, and soil requirements; size, shape, and spacing; blooming season, harvest time, propagation methods, and pruning; invasive notices, problems, fertilizer requirements and other FAQs.
There’s a free version to try out, but I consider the premium version at $30 a year to be one of the best investments I make.
Seek by iNaturalist
A cooperative effort by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, this crowd-sourced image-recognition app is as straightforward as can be. Snap a photo of a plant, insect, animal or mushroom — or even just point your camera at it — and get its taxonomic classification (from kingdom to species), common name, seasonality, a count of how many times it’s been recorded on the app, and a short description, typically pulled in from Wikipedia. It’s my go-to app for tree identification.