Identifying Plants with PictureThis

There is a colossal evergreen tree in our yard that oozes white sap, drops cones, and has big droopy branches. We never knew what type of tree it was since it’s a leftover from the prior owner. Were the oozy sap and droopy branches normal or signs of a problem? No clue, but we needed to figure it out since both the garage and the house are well within range if it topples over.

img_0946I remembered that I downloaded PictureThis last year and figured it was worth a try. PictureThis is a plant identification app. As it turns out, it works on everything from houseplants to colossal evergreen trees. It was able to the identify the evergreen and pretty much every plant, bush, and tree on the property.

In case you were wondering, the tree is a Norway Spruce. The droopy branches are one of its defining characteristics. The white sap, not so much. It could be an indicator of disease so someone is coming to look at it in a couple of weeks.

How is the accuracy? It claims an accuracy rate of 84% and I would say that it is at least that reliable. The correct plant was almost always in the list of two or three possible matches. When it wasn’t, PictureThis was able to identify the genus (Picea) but not the species (abies). It always at least pointed me in the right direction and never missed the mark completely.

Loropetalum-1Who is this useful for? If you enjoy plants and/or gardening but are a clueless newbie like me, this app is for you. I downloaded PictureThis last year after inheriting some house plants at work. I didn’t know what they were or what care they needed. PictureThis was able to identify all three.

Where can you get it? PictureThis is available for free from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

How does it work? Take a picture of a plant from inside the app or select one from your phone’s photo album. The app will then scan the photo and deliver the matches. This process takes seconds and usually returns one to three possibilities. Click on the teal “Match” icon beside each plant to see more pictures and a description. When you find the plant that matches yours, click on the teal “Match” icon within the detail screen of that plant.


What are some neat things about the app? It creates a timeline and a map of the plants that you have “collected”. There is also a space for you to add comments. These features combined add a journaling element to the app.

There is also a social element. The app prompts you to create a username and short profile upon signing up. This allows you to connect with the rest of the PictureThis community. The biggest benefit of this is being able to give and receive help with plant identifications.

OakOne other pretty cool thing about this app is that it can identify a tree by scanning a picture of one of its leaves. This comes in handy when trying to identify trees like oaks and maples. Unlike spruces and pines, they have high canopies that you can’t just walk up to. If the canopy is too high for you to reach, check the ground after a heavy rain. That is where I found the leaves that I used.

Any not-so-neat things about the PictureThis? I don’t have any complaints, just a wish list for future updates. It would be nice if it gave more detailed information about each plant. (Though the link out to Wikipedia is a nice substitute.) A pronunciation feature would also be nice for those of us who don’t know how to pronounce words like ‘loropetalum’.

BarberryI haven’t come across any glitches or performance issues. The most common complaint in the reviews is accuracy. I didn’t have a big issue with this. The one or two times that it was struggling, retaking the picture from a different angle helped.

Let me know in the comments what you think of PictureThis. What do you like/dislike about it? Do you have any tips? Is there a similar app that you prefer? Also, don’t forget to subscribe to receive a weekly email about my new obsession.