Plant ID App Showdown: Which App Reigns Supreme?
What are Plant ID Apps?
Plant ID apps help gardeners and curious nature-lovers identify flowers, trees, leaves, grasses and even mushrooms just by taking a picture. At first this simple feature might not seem revolutionary, but believe me you will find so many circumstances to appreciate it.
Our previous article covers what plant ID apps do and the myriad ways they help us be better plant parents, gardeners and nature explorers and educators. If you haven’t read it, we highly recommend you check it out!
Now, onward to the app showdown!
When it comes to plant ID apps, accurate plant identification is kind of key, so let’s address that first.
PictureThis and PlantSnap use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to analyse your plant picture and cross-reference it with a huge database of photos to find a match. The app providers use different proprietary AI systems and have access to different databases.
We created a head-to-head battle to determine which app was most accurate at identifying plants across a wide spectrum: mature plants, sprouts, vegetables, flowers, grasses, trees, succulents, herbs and mushrooms. Of the 40 plants tested, PictureThis misidentified five plants, whereas PlantSnap misidentified ten.
These results are a little skewed by a common flaw: both apps had trouble identifying specific varieties of peppers. We took pictures of sweet, jalapeño and habanero pepper plants but all of them were identified as cayenne pepper. Well, we honestly can’t blame the apps for that shortcoming because pepper leaves and flowers all look pretty similar…
When you remove peppers from the tally, PictureThis has an amazing accuracy of 97.5 percent – it only made one misidentification of Japanese blood grass! PictureThis really stood out for us when it accurately identified a tiny basil sprout with only two miniature true leaves on it!
Conversely, PlantSnap completely misidentified six plants and has an accuracy of 85 percent. And ‘completely’ is important here. PlantSnap presents you with a list of up to eight different identifications when you take a picture. For six additional plants we tested, the correct plant ID was not the primary identification presented by PlantSnap (sometimes it was the fifth or third down the list).
Plus, among the list of potential IDs for a blackberry plant, PlantSnap suggested poison ivy! The two plants don’t really look alike, so this is an example where providing a list of loosely-related identifications can create an unnecessary scare.
While it’s helpful to have back-up options if the primary identification is not accurate, we prefer the simplicity of receiving one plant ID result and the almost unerring accuracy of PictureThis.
What’s in a name?
Well, in this case Shakespeare, a lot is in a name. A single plant can go by five different names depending on who you talk to, so it is extremely useful when plant ID apps provide both scientific and common names.
PictureThis came through for us 100 percent on this, even to the point of giving multiple common names for each plant and an auditory example for speaking the scientific name.
PlantSnap always provides the scientific name, but sometimes neglects to give the common ones. For example, our money tree was identified as “Carolina Pachira aquatica” and our olive tree was identified as “Olea lancae leaves”.
Imagine a situation where you tell a friend “I think that looks like a money tree!”. Then you use your plant ID app to prove how smart you are, and it says ‘Carolina Pachira aquatica’. You think, “Umm… was I right or wrong?” and have to search google to figure it out. Does that seem like a bit of a buzzkill? We thought so too.
User Experience: Is it as easy as taking a picture?
PlantSnap wants users to feel like using their app is a ‘snap,’ but we felt that they over complicated the process with the auto-detection feature.
When you switch on the camera inside the app a bunch of white circles start popping up everywhere in an attempt to surround the flower or leaf that you’re trying to identify. You are supposed to touch the circle that most accurately surrounds the plant to take the picture. In reality, the circles tend to narrow-in on small fractions of leaves and petals – too small to get an accurate ID. There is an alternative way to take a picture, and we consistently opted for it: you take an overall picture of the plant, then crop in on the key a key leaf or flower.
The experience of snapping a photo was much easier with PictureThis. When you go to take a picture there is an outline of a flower in the middle of the screen. Your job is to make sure the key part of the plant fits in the outline, then take a picture. Done. We much preferred this method to the chaotic circles exploding across the screen when taking a picture on PlantSnap.
The True Wilderness Test
We took both apps for a spin in some true wilderness to see which one makes the best adventure companion. They did quite well identifying the wild plants and mushrooms we came across, but when we entered areas with patchy cellular signal PictureThis won the contest.
Both apps require an internet or cellular connection to identify plants; however, PictureThis saved all the pictures we took when we didn’t have signal and automatically identified the plant pictures as soon as we moved into areas with signal available.
Bonus Features – PictureThis
Everyone loves a bonus, and PictureThis is chalk-full of them! So much so, in fact, that it’s almost misleading to call it a plant ID app. PictureThis is the Swiss Army knife of plant apps.
Simply snapping a picture gives you:
- Thorough plant care guides
- Tips from garden coaches
- Tons of frequently asked questions (e.g. Is it safe for cats?)
- Interesting facts about the history and symbolism of the plant
- Conditions requirements for the plant’s ideal environment
- Uses for the plant
Does it get even better? Yes, yes it does. On top of all that, there is a ‘problem diagnosis’ feature where the same AI that identifies the plant will analyse pictures of plant damage (e.g. burnt, yellow, drooping leaves), suggest possible causes and hook you up with information on how to help your plant heal. And if that’s not enough, you can go one step further by contacting their garden experts with questions on plant health and plant identification.
Wait – there’s more. Once you snap a picture of your plant, you can add it to ‘your garden’ on the app. Now you have a digital collection of all your plants, with all their care guides, and you can even set up watering and fertilizing reminders for each one. You’ll never forget to water your plants again!
Finally, PictureThis provides a social sharing platform to share pictures, connect with other plant-lovers and see what plants are being identified around the world. However, if you are looking for an established, engaged and positive plant community we highly recommend joining our Facebook groups and following us on Instagram.
Bonus Features – PlantSnap
Along with the plant identification, PlantSnapprovides a description of the plant’s physical properties, its growing conditions and garden uses. You can also save plants to your ‘collection’ to reference them later. There is also a PlantSnap social sharing community, similar to what PictureThis provides. Lastly, there is an augmented reality feature to ‘interact’ with the plant pictures. This feature is limited to two different outcomes — one for a leaf and one for a flower — and didn’t provide a very engaging experience, but as augmented reality technology develops we can see it growing into an interesting experience, especially for children.
* indicates that this feature is part of the premium paid plan.
Cost and Value
PictureThis and PlantSnap are ‘freemium’ apps. That means you can use the basic app functions for free and only pay when you upgrade to use premium features.
PictureThis allows free use of most of the features the app has to offer — they really don’t hold back much! You will notice a pop-up promoting the premium plan about once per use. Simply close the pop-up to continue using the app for free.
To access premium features like plant identification and problem diagnosis by a plant expert (a person as opposed to the AI system), users pay an annual fee of $29.99 (USD) – that’s under ten cents a day! If you’re interested in superior identification accuracy and all the amazing bonus features PictureThis has to offer, $29.99 is a steal.
PlantSnap includes ten plant IDs per day for free. You can earn 3 additional ‘snaps’ by watching a short ad. If you want more snaps you can purchase a handful for a dollar or choose to invest in a monthly ($4.99), annual ($8.49) or forever-yours membership ($34.99).
Free PlantSnap users will experience several pop-ups while using the app that promote upgrading to paid features, as well as advertisements to purchase the identified plants on amazon.
If your main interest is plant identification, PlantSnap is a great free or low-cost option.
As well, PlantSnap introduced a separate version of the app – PlantSnap Pro – in 2019. We didn’t take this app for a spin, but it appears to have much the same features as the freemium app, with the exception that it will auto-recognize plants without needing to take a picture. There is no free trial – it can be purchased for $27.99 USD.
We are blown away by the new opportunities plant ID apps provide to take everyone’s experience and understanding of nature to the next level and solve our most common and frustrating plant problems. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a self-proclaimed ‘black thumb,’ these apps are sure to become a favorite gardening companion.
PlantSnap provides a great free/cheap option for plant identification — the forever free plan is an enticing option!
PictureThis is the swiss-army knife of plant identification apps, easy to use and boasts the most accurate identification system. You have access to a huge number of features for free, or all the premium features for a very reasonable annual price.
We predict that both apps will evolve their features and become even more accurate as time passes. The AI systems that identify plants become more knowledgeable and accurate each time users take a picture. Currently, PlantSnap is not as accurate as PictureThis, but given time its AI may catch up or even surpass PictureThis.
We recommend downloading both apps for free to see which one you prefer!