Leafsnap Is an App That Identifies Plants of All Kinds

It can also tell you how to care properly for them.

A mature woman surrounded by plants takes a photo with her phone camera.

Vera Ivanchenko / EyeEm / Getty Images

It's a Treehugger's dream come true. Leafsnap is a free app that identifies plant species of all kinds, from flowers and bark to fruit and trees. Go for a walk, take a shot of a leaf, and this little wonder will identify it and give all kinds of additional information. You can also use it to identify houseplants that catch your eye, or are maybe in need of some TLC; the app will provide guidance for care.

With over 32,000 plant taxons from around the world in its database, Leafsnap can offer you nearly unlimited plant identification—hence its creators' description as "the most high-tech, comprehensive and accurate plant identification app ever created!"

A Black man takes a photo of plants on a wall.

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The app is a result of a collaboration between Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. The computer scientists made use of mathematical techniques developed for face recognition and applied these to species identification. The botanists at the Smithsonian collected the initial data sets of leaf species and the photography. Every leaf photograph that is uploaded is matched against a leaf image library so that the best matches are ranked and noted for verification.

It is complicated because "within a single species, leaves can have quite diverse shapes, while leaves from different species are sometimes quite similar, so one of the main technical challenges in using leaves to identify plant species has been to find effective representations of their shape, which capture their most important characteristics."

leaf assorted photo

Courtesy of Leafsnap

The app has been around since 2009 and has developed considerably since then. You can save previous identifications and set calendar reminders for necessary plant care regimens. Some commenters point out that photos must be taken against a white backdrop, which is a bit awkward if you're traipsing around in nature, but boosts the accuracy of identification.

Reviews are positive, with users describing it as "very well set up and organized and ... exactly what I was looking for." Someone pointed out that it works on dried or dead flowers and "tells you how to help if they are dying." Another was impressed with its accuracy, and the fact that it identifies fungi, too. "I was most impressed when I took a picture of our shriveling day lilies. Took a pic of the leaves and it identified as Orange Day Lily and gave care instructions!" Perhaps it should be nicknamed the plant saver app.

Leafsnap contains a nice visual dictionary of leaf types which can be matched to names and descriptions if one has the patience to scroll through it. There are photos and information about the tree's flowers, fruit, seeds and bark, giving the user a deeper understanding of the species. It might a good option for kids to explore plant identification. Indeed, Common Sense Media says Leafsnap can "definitely help kids become more familiar with leaves and trees. And the catalog and games are solidly educational with beautiful photos."

You can find it on the App Store here. (There's a premium, ad-free version that you can purchase, but the basic version is free.)