A few years ago, I heard about Jerusalem artichoke, a plant that grows tall with pretty yellow flowers pollinators love. Plus, you can harvest and eat the tubers, also called sunchokes.
I spotted two bags of home-grown sunchokes at Green Dragon and planted them in a space where sunflowers flourished the year before. They bloomed and the insects loved them. But I didn’t take the time to harvest the sunchokes.
This spring, tall green stalks started growing in the same spot. Where they sunflowers or were they sunchokes? To complicate things, both are in the same plant family.
Luckily, I had an answer in two seconds thanks to a plant ID app. These apps help identify plants on a hike, on a garden tour or even in your own yard. They’re helpful when figuring out if a sprout is a plant to nurture or a weed to pull.
However, it can be hard to choose an app among the dozens available.
Several gardeners in the LNP | LancasterOnline newsroom evaluated five of the most-popular identification apps. Our favorites were iNaturalist and PlantNet. They were informative, fast, easy to use and pretty accurate. Also, they are free.
How do they work?
Snap a picture directly in the app or upload a saved picture to get results. Each app searches a database of thousands of plants to come up with one match or more.
While these apps were able to correctly identify most of plant genus, the specific species was more elusive.
And though this story focuses on plants, these apps can also identify insects, mushrooms and more.
We liked the honesty of this app’s suggestions, which are hedged with “we’re not confident enough to make a recommendation but here are our top 10 suggestions” or “we’re pretty sure this is in the genus.” The list of suggestions has photos, plus both the scientific name and a common name, all helpful in identifying a plant.
More information, limited to Wikipedia, is a click away, with more data on the website. However, there’s not a lot of information about growing the plant.
Don’t make the mistake of skipping over the “What did you see?” option in a rush to click on the big green “share.” If you skip the question, you’ll wait for days for a crowd-sourced ID.
iNaturalist also has a new identification app, Seek. Seek has an option to use the app without registering and findings won’t be made public, which makes it safe for children and people concerned about privacy.
When you add a photo to PlantNet, you choose leaf, flower, fruit or bark. You can add photos in each category, which led to better results in our tests.
The suggestions include multiple photos, plus the scientific name and a common name. The information included lots of photos but not a lot of details about how to grow.
PlantSnap shared the most wrong suggestions of any of these apps for two of our reviewers. For the third reviewer, it was correct every time and was her top pick. A plus to this app are the icons showing sun and watering requirements.
We didn’t like the pop-up ads on this app. The free version is limited to 10 IDs a day with more if you watch an ad. An ad-free version is $14.99 per year.
This app took the longest time to see more detailed information about the suggested plants, partially because of an ad. Also, the list of suggestions includes only the scientific name. The common names are on the information page along with lots of photos but no details on how to grow.
One of our reviewers was asked for her credit card information even though the app is free, so she skipped it. An ad-free version is available for $4.99 a month.
PictureThis is the one app we reviewed that offers a free version for only a week. After the trial, the app costs $29.99 per year. The app has more than 250,000 reviews in the Apple app store, so we added this to our list to check out.
Our biggest issue with this app is it offers only one plant match. While that’s great when the match is correct, one of our reviewers called that kind of confidence arrogant, especially when the match isn’t right. For example, it incorrectly identified a rough-leaf hydrangea as a smooth hydrangea. Not helpful.
Also not appreciated: The suggestion that a plant’s leaves were not variegated but rather mottled and sick.
One place where this app shines is the information. There are popular questions and answers about the plant plus when it blooms, size, spread, conditions and care guide. Alerts are added for plants toxic to people and animals. Some of the plants have tips from a garden coach.
LNP | LancasterOnline page designers Penny Grubic and Diana Abreu contributed to this story.