Identify plants the easy way

We all get stuck identifying plants at some point. Geoff Hodge reveals the smart phone apps that can help

Plant ID apps - do they work?

by Liz Potter |

Gone are the days when, if you wanted to identify a plant in your garden, your only hope was to invite a nerdy horticultural friend over for dinner and casually drop it into the conversation. With the arrival of the digital age, we can ask an expert via social media, or send a polite email to our nerdy friend instead. This is all well and good if the recipient doesn’t mind helping us out; nowadays, it’s much quicker and easier to let technology do the donkey work, by uploading the photo to a plant recognition app on your smart phone or tablet.

These apps are simple to use: once you’ve downloaded one, open it and take a photo of your mystery plant. Press the ‘Done’ or ‘Upload’ button and wait for a reply. Or, if the plant photo is already stored on your device, you can usually select that too. Within a very short time, usually, suggestions as to the plant’s true identity arrive on your phone screen.

Good apps get really close to the correct ID; others, alas, often get it wrong, which could lead you to pruning, watering or planting it incorrectly.

Sadly, none of the apps I tried got very near to providing the exact cultivar name, but they were fairly good at the genus and species.

This is probably the apps’ main drawback: uploading a photo of a rose or rhododendron cultivar, only to be told it’s a ‘rose’ or a ‘rhododendron’, isn’t great if you want to know exactly which one it is.

The success of these apps depends on the quality of the data you put in. If you send a dark, fuzzy photo of a plant 10m/30ft away,

it’s highly unlikely any app (or human for that matter) will be able to identify it. So, to improve your chances of a correct ID:

• Show the whole plant. Take a photo that represents the entire plant and include all relevant details

• Make sure it’s sharp. Make sure the plant is in focus, well lit and in the centre of the picture area (some apps let you reframe the composition before sending)

• Include flowers and foliage. Send a pic with the plant in flower, rather than just a couple of leaves or a bare stem in winter. A few apps do have a leaf – as well as bark or fruit – filter.

I tried each app on 10 different plant images or as many ‘freebies’ as I was allowed before being forced to subscribe and pay out some hard cash.

All those listed can be downloaded for iOS (iPhone) from the Apple App Store and for Android phones from Google Play.

I’ve disregarded any apps where you have to pay upfront, although most offer additional in-app purchases, such as info on how to look after the plant. The cost is often offered as a subscription, starting at £3.49/month. I doubt anyone has so many plants to ID that they want to pay a hefty monthly or annual fee! But if you do, gather all your plant photos together and do your ID’ing as quickly as possible, during the free days.

APP NAME: Candide

Free; ID results within a few seconds; 95% accurate. Candide (candidegardening.com/gb) is an online community of gardeners who share knowledge, inspiration and questions, which offers lots of benefits, including plant IDs. Once the plant is identified, you can save it to your list of plants and find out more about it. To my mind, the best one available.

APP NAME: Flower Spot

Three days free, £4.99/week; ID results within 5-10 seconds; 90% accurate. I couldn’t use my stored photos and had to take photos of plants. Once ID’d you can then get information about the plant, including fertiliser recommendations. You can also set up notifications to remind you of watering and feeding needs, if you subscribe.

APP NAME: GardenTags

Free or Premium £3.49/month, £17.99/year; ID results within 10-15 seconds; 90% accurate. This is an online community, so you can follow and chat with other gardeners. Once ID’d the plant can be added to your list and you’ll receive care information if you sign up for the Premium service. While it usually got the ID correct, when it was off, it was way off.

APP NAME: iplant

Free; ID results within 10-15 seconds; 90% accurate. Each ID is saved in your history and provides a page of useful information and a link to Wikipedia and to Google Search for further information. You can add simple notes to your plant ID.

APP NAME: Plantifier

Free; 0% accurate. This is backed by mygarden.org, a wide community of garden and plant enthusiasts. Upload the photo and the community will help you identify it. As yet, I haven’t had a reply!

APP NAME: LeafSnap

Free or £4.99/month, £24.49/6 months; ID results within 5-10 seconds; 80% accurate. It usually got the ID correct, but could also be a long way off. You can search via flower, leaf, fruit or bark. With the free version you get lots of annoying pop-up ads. LeafSnap 2020 app is the same.

APP NAME: GardenTags

Free or Premium £3.49/month, £17.99/year; ID results within 10-15 seconds; 90% accurate. This is an online community, so you can follow and chat with other gardeners. Once ID’d the plant can be added to your list and you’ll receive care information if you sign up for the Premium service. While it usually got the ID correct, when it was off, it was way off.

APP NAME: PictureThis

Free for seven days, then £19.99 per year; ID results within a few seconds; 90% accurate. Once ID’d you get a page of good information on the plant and its care. You can save your plant IDs to look at later.

APP NAME: PlantNet Plant Identification

Free; ID results within 5-10 seconds; 85% accurate. A good basic ID app and straightforward to use. You can select to ID by flower, leaf, bark or fruit.

APP NAME: Planta

Three days free, £9.99/month ID results within 5-10 seconds; 85% accurate. The speed and accuracy are fairly good, and you get some useful plant information. Identified plants can be saved for later.

APP NAME: PlantSnap

10 IDs free, £4.99/month, £14.49/year, £28.99 for ever; ID results within 5-10 seconds; 85% accurate. Once the plant is ID’d, you get a page of information about it and can save it to your collection. If you don’t believe the ID is correct, you can send the photo to their team of botanists for ID’ing.

APP NAME: PlantNet Plant Identification

Free; ID results within 5-10 seconds; 85% accurate; A good basic ID app and straightforward to use. You can select to ID by flower, leaf, bark or fruit.

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