In every place where you find nature you can learn something about plants, even in the city. But with an estimated 400,000 plants on Earth, it’s hard to know all of them or to be able to distinguish similar plant species. Even with a botanical encyclopedia, you’d be hard pressed to identify exactly which plant it is you have just stumbled upon if you don’t know it.
Luckily, with the 10 apps and sites below you won’t have to carry hefty books around with you: a smartphone and a decent internet connection will do the trick. I’ve tested all apps and use the sites regularly.
PlantNet is a plant observation and interactive identification project and app. It’s been developed by CIRAD, the French agronomic research centre for development, in collaboration with other public partners and foundations. It’s available in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
It’s easy to use and you usually get good results if the pictures are taken of individual leafs or flowers, and without too many plants in the background. The app doesn’t require you to tear off the flower or leaf and put it on a white background to take a picture, a bonus compared to other apps. As the app is crowdsourced, you get plants from all over the world.
Leafsnap is an app developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institute. It covers tree species from the Northeast U.S. and there is also a UK version with UK trees.
The app is similar in functioning to PlantNet, but because of its focus on flora from another continent, not very useful to me on a regular basis.
Plantifier is another free crowdsourced plant recognition app. It’s been created by a Belgian company, TrendsCo and is available in English, Dutch, French and Slovene.
Contrary to the previous two apps, it doesn’t use face recognition technology to identify plants but experts – the community – will recognise your plant if you are lucky. I didn’t yet get a response on the one I posted and the community doesn’t seem very active. Plantifier is useful if you garden or need to know a specific plant, but apart from its name you will not get a lot more info about the plant you are interested in.
Plant-O-Matic is a plant identification app that focuses on geolocation. It offers a selection of all plants available in a perimeter of 100 sq km in North and South America. Data has been provided by several universities and research centres in the U.S.
The app is pretty useless to me as I don’t live in America, but I really like the filtering option by growth forms and flower colours. It’s interesting to learn more about botanical classifications.
5. Garden Compass
Garden Compass works like Plantifier with a team of expert horticultural garden advisors that will help recognise the plant you submit. Unlike the other apps, it also helps with identifying pests and diseases. You can only ask three questions for free, then you need to pay for the service.
The app is available in English, German, Northern Sami (!!) and Spanish.
6. Wild Plant Database
The Wild Plant Database is basic but functional, it’s updated by amateur botanists, and is organised by families. You can search for both the scientific or common name of over 278 wild plants.
7. PlantSearch and GardenSearch
These two very useful and comprehensive tools are provided free of charge by BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International). PlantSearch database is the only global database of plant species in botanic gardens and similar organizations. You will however need to know the scientific name of the plant you are looking for or its taxa to find it in the database.
GardenSearch database is the only global source of information on the world’s botanical gardens, but also includes gene and seed banks, network organizations, and zoos. It’s the perfect site to visit if you are planning a botanical outing in your neighbourhood or abroad.
8. Reconnaître la flore
Reconnaître les fleurs, plantes et arbres is my favourite site for identifying wild flowers, trees or plants. It’s in French, and organised for the neophyte botanist, by broad category of plant, then colour of flower or other visible distinctive elements. It’s not super responsive but as its interface is very basic and uncluttered, you can consult it when hiking.
9. Eat the Weeds
Eat the weeds is maintained by Green Deane, a passionate forager and world wide reference when it comes to wild edible food and wild plants. His blog is not organised as a database, but if you are looking for a specific plant or flower, its search function is pretty good. There is some great advice on the site if you are new to foraging like me!
10. Cuisine sauvage
The French equivalent to Eat the weeds is Cuisine sauvage. It’s a crowdsourced site with a very large selection of wild edible plants and recipes. It’s really easy to use, fully responsive and collaborative. The factsheet for each plant is both scientific and practical.
Did I miss out on any good app or site?