Plant ID app showdown: which app reigns supreme?
Last month we introduced you to a new essential tool for gardeners and nature lovers: plant identification apps. But we realize that article probably left you wondering which of the many apps to identify plants you should choose. We put the top two: PictureThis and PlantSnap —both available for Android and iOs devices — through a bunch of rigorous tests to determine which deserves the honour of gracing your gadget. Let’s get started on our plant ID app review.
The ability of these apps to accurately identify a plant is key, so let’s address that first.
PictureThis and PlantSnap use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to analyze plant images, cross-referencing with a photo database to find a match. Each app’s provider has a proprietary AI system and database.
We created a head-to-head battle to determine which app most accurately identified plants across a spectrum: mature plants, sprouts, vegetables, flowers, grasses, trees, succulents, herbs and mushrooms. Of the 40 kinds of plants in our test, PictureThis misidentified five plants, and PlantSnap misidentified ten.
These results are skewed by a common flaw: both apps had trouble identifying specific pepper varieties. We took pictures of sweet, jalapeño and habanero pepper plants, and all were identified as cayenne pepper. Pepper leaves and flowers all do look pretty similar, though:
Removing peppers from the tally, PictureThis had a 97.5% accuracy rate — it misidentified one plant: Japanese blood grass. Amazingly, PictureThis identified a basil sprout, with only two miniature true leaves.
PlantSnap completely misidentified six plants, for an accuracy of 85%. And “completely” is important. PlantSnap presents a list of up to eight different identifications when you show it a picture. For six plants, the correct ID was not the primary one presented (at times 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 don’t look very much alike, so this is an example where a list of loosely-related identifications can create an unnecessary scare.
While back-up options are helpful if the primary ID isn’t accurate, we preferred getting just one (nearly always accurate) result with PictureThis.
What’s in a name?
A single plant can go by five different names depending on who you talk to, so it’s useful when these apps provide both scientific and common names.
PictureThis came through 100% on this, giving multiple common names for each plant and an auditory example for speaking the scientific name.
PlantSnap always provided the scientific name, but sometimes neglected to give common ones. For example, our money tree was identified as Carolina Pachira aquatica and our olive tree was identified as Olea lancae leaves.
User experience: is it as easy as taking a picture?
PlantSnap wants us to feel like using their app is a snap, but we felt they over-complicated the process with their auto-detection feature.
When you switch on the camera inside the app, white circles pop up, attempting to surround the flower or leaf you’re trying to identify. You’re meant to touch the circle that most accurately surrounds the plant to take the picture. The circles tended to narrow in on fractions of leaves and petals — too small for an accurate ID.
The app offers an alternate way to take a photo of the plant, and we usually opted for it. Simply take a picture of the entire plant, then crop in on a key leaf or flower.
The process was much easier with PictureThis. When you’re taking a photo, a flower outline appears in the middle of your screen. Your job is to make sure the key part of the plant fits in the outline, then take a picture. Done.
A plant ID app true wilderness test
We took both apps for a spin in some true wilderness to see which made the best adventure companion. They both did well identifying wild local plants and mushrooms, but in areas of patchy cell signal, PictureThis won.
Both apps need an internet or cellular connection to identify plants. PictureThis saved all the pictures we took when we didn’t have a signal and automatically identified the plants when we had signal once more.
Bonus features – PictureThis
PictureThis is chock-full of bonus features — simply snapping a picture gives you:
- thorough plant care guides
- care tips from garden coaches
- answers to tons of FAQs (for example: is it safe for cats?)
- facts about the plant’s history, symbolism and uses
- the plant’s ideal environment
The app also offers a “Problem Diagnosis” feature that can analyze plant damage (for example: burnt, yellow, drooping leaves). It suggests possible causes and gives information on how to help your plant heal. You can also contact their experts with questions on plant diseases and plant identification.
Once you snap a picture of your plant, you can add it to Your Garden, your digital plant collection (includes care guides). You can also set up watering and fertilizing reminders for each plant.
The app also has a social platform to share pictures and connect with other plant-lovers. However, if you’re 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 plant ID, PlantSnap provides a description of physical properties, growing conditions and garden uses, and you can save plants to your collection. PlantSnap also has a social sharing community.
Lastly, there’s an augmented reality feature which lets you interact with your plant pictures. With just two different outcomes — one for a leaf and one for a flower — it didn’t provide a very engaging experience.
Cost and value
PictureThis and PlantSnap are freemium apps, their basic functions are free and you pay to upgrade to use premium features.
To access premium features like plant ID and problem diagnosis by an expert (a person as opposed to AI), users pay an annual fee of $29.99 (USD).
PlantSnap includes ten plant IDs per day for free. You can earn three additional IDs by watching a short ad. If you want more, you can buy a handful for a dollar or invest in a monthly ($4.99), annual ($8.49) or forever-yours membership ($34.99).
We are blown away by the opportunities plant ID apps provide to take one’s experience and understanding of nature to the next level.
PlantSnap is a great free/cheap option for plant identification, and their forever free plan is enticing.
PictureThis is the Swiss Army knife of plant ID apps, it’s easy to use and has the most accurate identification system. You can access a number of features for free, or get its premium features for a reasonable annual price.
We predict both will become even more accurate over time. The AI systems that identify plants become more knowledgeable each time a user takes a picture. Currently, PlantSnap isn’t as accurate as PictureThis, but with time its AI may catch up or even surpass PictureThis.