Gardening with Deb: Phone apps for plant identification | SteamboatToday.com

Gardening with Deb: Phone apps for plant identification

Deb Babcock/For Steamboat Today

Deb Babcock

When I go hiking, I usually take a wildflower book with me to aid in plant identification. When I recently looked into some phone apps that help identify plants, I thought, "what a great idea: Save the weight of a book and maybe save some time flipping through the pages to find the flower."

CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays throughout the gardening season. Call them at 970-870-5241, email csumgprogram@co.r… or visit them in the Extension Office, 136 Sixth St.

Unfortunately, the two I used and others I looked into have several drawbacks here in the mountains of Colorado.

A major problem out here is cell phone coverage. Usually, I had to wait until I got into cell phone range or could hook up to Wi-Fi to let the app do its analysis. The other issue with the apps I used is that, on the plants that I do know, it was wrong about half the time. So my confidence in the app on plants I don’t recognize isn’t very high. You’ll want to get a secondary source to confirm it is the right plant.

I love the concept of the phone apps — and I’ll list several of them below — because of the way they work: You take a photo of the plant you want to identify, and the application analyzes the photo and tries to match it to a database of plants. If you're not in cell phone range, you can snap the photo and then let the app do its analysis once you are. You need to take a good, clear close-up of the main features of the plant for the apps to work.

The apps I used ("Like That Garden" and "Garden Answers Plant Identification") often provided me with eight to 10 choices of what the plant was. I could scroll down and confirm, while at the same time getting a little more information about the plant, such as its botanic name, its habitat, etc. But if your photo isn’t sharp enough or close enough, or if there is too much other vegetation in the photo, the app will not be able to find the plant.

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"Like That Garden" is free and easy to use, but unfortunately, it's not that accurate. Or maybe I just take crummy photos, but it couldn’t identify paintbrush, pussytoes, mushrooms or some other shrubs I didn’t know the names of. It did identify fireweed, brittlebush sunflowers and red baneberries.

As to "Garden Answers Plant Identification," I found this free app to be a little better at identifying plants than "Like That Garden," but the same issues arose regarding cell phone coverage, and it timed out often when working at lower Internet speeds. The feature I potentially like about this app is the ability to forward my photo to a panel of experts and have them identify the plant if the app cannot do so and give me tips on how to grow, handle plant problems and other information about the plant. I did send in one photo, but as of this writing, I have not heard back from the experts.

"Leafsnap" is a free tree identification app for iPhone which has received comments about server errors within the program, misidentification and the fact that you need to place the leaf in front of a white sheet of paper when you take the photo in order for the app to work. It also focuses mainly on trees of the northeastern U.S.

"Garden Compass" helps you diagnose plants and plant diseases. With this app, you take the photo, which is then sent into a panel of experts who take a look and get back to you with their answers about the disease and how to address it.

Others I haven’t yet tested, but will, include "FlowerChecker" for iPhone and Android, "Nature Gate," "Plant-Net" and "Google Goggles."

Google Images is not an app, but presents another way to help identify plants: Just upload the image to the search engine with a few descriptive words about it, then scroll through the images Google supplies and see if you can match your plant.

There are also a lot of plant and flower books, encyclopedias and plant guidebooks you can download to your phone and save yourself the weight of paperbacks in your backpack. And while you're checking them out, put some butterfly, bird, animal track and wildlife identification books on your phone, as well.

So for now, until these apps are perfected (and cell phone coverage improves), or I find another that works better, I’ll rely on my books to help me identify plants I don’t know.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. The products mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Master Gardener program. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: csumggardeners@co.routt.co.us

CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays throughout the gardening season. Call them at 970-870-5241, email csumgprogram@co.r… or visit them in the Extension Office, 136 Sixth St.