It’s an awesome idea: an app that will identify a plant just by a photo. Perfect for snapping pix when touring gardens or wondering whether you should let that volunteer flower have a permanent home in your garden. So when the LikeThat Garden app recently added a version for Android devices, I was more than ready to try it out.
The app advises taking photos as closely and clearly of a bloom as possible. Then if you hit search, it offers up a list of choices, giving the chance to “confirm” your choice if it offers up an accurate match. (There’s also a more social component that gives you a chance to load in the location of where you found the flower.)
Just like the best way to test the accuracy of an atlas is to check out the map around your home, I figured I’d start it out with plants from my own garden that I knew. I also tried those same photos by dropping them into Google’s image search to see how the two compared.
When offered a photo of a basic Jackmanii clematis, the app offered me choices of two-tone petunias, bellflower clematis (admittedly close in terms of the photo it showed of another clematis variety that was misidentified as such), two varieties of trillium and oxalis. Google images offered me mostly clematis photos as matches, but never once a Jackmanii, the most classic variety that’s been a staple in gardens since it was first introduced in the 1860s.
My other attempts at offering up clematis blossoms got me as far as bellflower clematis (clematis campaniflora) again -- a clematis, that as you might expect, is bell-shaped, unlike the clematis I offered up as the example.
In one instance the app offered me an exact photo match, but was again intent on calling all clematis plants by the same (and wrong) type. I was actually impressed it came up with a match for that photowise, since I’d submitted a more unusual-looking clematis that looks like a dahlia – which was in fact one of the other not-illogical choices offered by the app. Google images, on the other hand, offered me only dahlias and a chive flower as possible matches for that same photo. Admittedly, the Josephine clematis is a bit of a toughie, especially since the blooms look different at various points after they first start to open.
Given a photo of a rose, the app offered me Rose of Sharon, Carolina roses, hibiscus, camellias, mountain peonies and Cape jasmine. The roses weren’t a bad match, but obviously not exact. So it’s a start, but it’s going to need a lot more very precise confirmations on roses to give you a helpful match.
But the app got balloon flower campanulas and purple coneflowers right straight off. Maybe a simpler shape helped? Google images handled those as well, so maybe being a more common flower type also helped.
The app offered me only two choices for centaurea, both of which were indeed centaurea plants and one of which was accurate. (Google images handled that one accurately as well; the distinctive shape probably helped.) And the app offered me just two choices for musk mallows, the first of which was correct.
I dutifully confirmed the results of the accurate offerings made by the app, which over time might help improve it, with any luck and accurate clicking by reasonably knowledgeable gardeners. But there’s nothing to stop the well-intentioned but not-so-well-informed from confirming inaccurate results, which might explain the results I was seeing.
So what’s the verdict? It’s a work in progress, but it’s better than just using Google alone. And at the price (it’s free from the Google Play or iTunes stores), you can’t complain too much.
Calling all Master (or masterful) Gardeners: I’ve got a good project for you – download the app and help improve it to the point we’ll have a great tool!
What’s your favorite plant ID method? Ask a neighbor? Got an ever-reliable guide book? And what are your favorite garden apps? Here are a few other people have found helpful: http://learn.eartheasy.com/