Identifying unknown plants around you can be extremely rewarding. The cool part is that you just need a free app on your phone. However, of the countless apps available, only a few have excellent performance, usability, and provide a great deal of information to the user. Here the best free apps to identify plants have been thoroughly reviewed. Two are clearly the winners.
Hence, what are the best free apps to immediately identify plants? The best free apps to identify plants were found to be “Candide” and “PlantNet”. Based on an extensive review, these two apps provide the highest accuracy, usability, and best user experience. Other apps, with good performance, are PlantSnap, Lens, LeafSnap, and Flora Incognita.
Let’s see how these apps performed in the tests and more, importantly, which one is more suitable for you.
How did I select the best app?
Six among the best free apps found in the Google Play Store were tested. They have been selected based on the number of users (50+ thousand), highest review on the play store. All the apps that have “free trials” were excluded. The apps tested were also selected for their ability to provide immediately (a second at most) and free plant identification. However, you need to know that there are also other apps that, for a small fee (and a few hours wait), can have even higher accuracy as based on expert botanists identifying them. On this, more at the end of the post.
How do apps to identify plants work?
An app that identifies plants uses an advanced mathematical algorithm that imitates our brain (neural network). These algorithms are able to identify (without any human input) recognize pictures of plants. This is possible because the algorithm has been “trained” by a team of experts botanists until it was able to correctly identify plants on its own without any help.
What are the takeaways for you then?
- No algorithm is 100% accurate 100% of the time. Your plant might be quite rare, so not many data where available. More often than However, for the vast majority of plants, the accuracy is way above 90% for Candide and PlantNet.
- Take pictures with different color backgrounds: if you take a picture of a green leaf in a green background (other leaves), it can get tough for the app to identify your plant correctly. Try to move the leaf or change the angle of the picture taken from your phone.
- Unsure of the results? Take another picture: if you are uncertain of the result, just take another picture of the same plant but from a different angle or different leaves. It helps!
- Avoid taking pictures of leaves/plants with problems: if the app is not designed to identify plant diseases, avoid, at all cost, pictures of leaves with diseases. Why? A leaf with a disease (as for instance discussed in this article) might have a different color or even shape from its normal state. This will “trick” the app that might confuse your plant for a similar one with the diseased color patterns;
- Very hard to identify similar species plants: some plants, like mint, have literally dozens of different varieties (or species) that look more or less the same. I tested even some botanists, and they were struggling to tell apart an apple mint from spearmint. It is not an easy job for humans, less for a machine.
- Do these apps require an internet connection? Yes, but this is not a problem in general. Indeed, they do not require a connection when you take the picture. Hence, if you have your phone and you want to identify the plant in a remote area, just wait to reach an internet connection again and, from your phone memory, send the picture to the app that will identify it for you.
How was the test performed?
I took 10 pictures of outdoor and indoor plants/herbs that I have. Some of them are quite common and easy to recognize (avocado), while others are way more tricky. Below you can find the 10 pictures of the plants with their common name and (below in small) their scientific name.
The Erica is by far the most challenging (even for humans) as there are more than 800 species.
For this test, I used my old android phone, more than 6 years old, with no issues for all of them.
How the best apps to identify plants were ranked?
Besides their ability to identify plants from pictures, choosing the winner has been based on the following criteria:
- The number of plants identified: I assign a point to each app based on the number of plants identified correctly out of the 10 tested. If the app confuses the plant for a very close one (same family), for me, this is an “Almost” correct identification, and I will consider the plant as “half” identified (0.5 points). Following this scale, 10 is the maximum while 0 is the minimum;
- User Experience: do you need to take 10 pictures to identify one plant? Do you need to resize the pictures? Do you need to wait for tens of annoying ads? Customer functionality is analyzed here. I have a 3-degree scale: “Excellent,” “Good”, “Poor”.
- Limitations: sometimes, even if the app is free, it might have some embedded limitations to push you into buying the paid version. If so, I will report a 2-degree scale: “Yes”, “No”. A limited app (“Yes”) might have a limited number of daily identification you can do.
- Extra value: does the app provide some extra information after the name of the plant. Does it tell you how to take care of the plant? How long does it last? The watering requirements? Does it come with a community of people ready to help? Based on the above, I have a scale from “Minimal”, “Good”, and “Excellent
|App||# of plants identified|
(out of 10)
|User Experience||Limitations||Extra Value|
|LeafSnap||9.5||Poor (too many ads)||No||Good|
|Flora Incognita||4||Poor (multiple pictures required)||No||Good|
For your curiosity, below, you can find the table with the full list of herbs/plants and which one the apps identified.
Table meaning: With “Yes,” I mean a correct identification, while “no” the app either did not provide any results or the plant identified was totally different. With “Almost,” the app identified a very close (and very close looking) cousin of the plant. So, even if not perfect, it was very close.
|Plant Name (Scientific Name)||PlantNet (9.5/10)||PlantSnap|
|LeafSnap (9.5/10)||Flora Incognita -(4/10)||Candide (8.5/10)|
|Broadleaf Stonecrop (Sedum Spathulifolium Hook)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Inchplant (Tradescantia Zebrina Bosse)||Yes||Yes||No (confused with Callisia)||Yes||No (confused with boat-lily)||Yes|
|Burro's Tail (Sedum Morganianum)||Yes||Yes||Almost (confused with sugarlmond plant)||Yes||No (confused with thick leaved stonecrop)||Yes|
|Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)||Yes||No (confused with Large Forest Asparagus)||Yes||Yes||No (confused with lavender)||Yes|
|Avocado (Persea Americana Mill)||Yes||No (confused with Black Tupelo)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Almost (the results was among the suggestion)|
|Butterfly Lavender (Lavandula Stoechas)||Yes||Almost (confused with True Lavender)||Yes||Yes||Almost (common lavender)||Almost (common lavender)|
|Japanese Spindletree (Euonymus Japonicus Thunb)||Yes||No (confused with Euphorbia bicompacta)||Almost (confused with Japanese Cheesewood)||Yes||No (confused with prostrate Marshwort)||Yes|
|Apple Mint (Mentha Spicata/Crispata)||Yes||Yes||Almost (confused with spearmint)||Yes||Almost (confused with spearmint)||Yes|
|Heather furzey (Erica Darleyensis)||Almost (confused with Erica Vagans)||Almost (confused with Snow Heath)||Yes||Almost (confused with Erica Vagans)||Yes||Almost (did not identify the right species but just the family)|
|Hydrangea (Big Leaf Hydrangea)||Yes||No (confused with African Basil)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Almost (was the third suggestion)|
Let’s check one by one the app discussed above.
I have to be honest here. I did not hear about this app until I started writing this article as I usually use PlantNet. However, Candide (more here on their page) will now be permanently on my phone.
Identification capability: very close to the top. It did not reach full score just because it suggested (just a few times) plants that were very close to the one I was trying to identify, and the correct plant was among the 2nd or 3rd recommendation. It never failed in recognizing the family to which the plant belongs. This is more than enough to let you understand what the plant is and what its needs are in terms of watering and sunlight.
User experience: It is exceptionally well designed and pleasing to the eyes. You can notice that lots of effort were put on it. It does not have any ads, and it is quite intuitive to use.
Its true value comes with the extra features of this app.
Info on the plant ready: when you identify a plant, the app provides a good amount of information in a short but well-organized table! This very well, though, as you have all the details you need to grow the plant straight away.
Free advice from gardeners! After registration, you have access to a “Community” where, like in a Facebook-style, people post pictures of their plants or ask questions. I posted the picture of an herb (Apple Mint) asking for help, and in a few hours, 2 people replied, giving some great tips. Free gardener advice? Why not!
Inspiring pictures: moreover, you can also find a session with some inspirational pictures that can give you ideas on plants to grow or some design for your garden.
Marketplace: if you are running short of pots, plants, or any gardening tool, chances are that someone close to you might be selling (or giving them for free) nearby. This app has a marketplace where you can buy what you need. This might also come cheaper and contribute to the environment if they are second-hand products.
The experience with the PlantNet app (more on the creator website) was outstanding.
Identification capability: Top. This is the app that shows the best identification capability. It was always spot on except just for a few tricky cases. I guess this excellent performance is due to their large pool of pictures (2 million) that allows the algorithm to work at its best.
User experience: It is easy to use: you just take a picture (or use one from your phone), and the app, within a second, will provide you with the scientific and common name of the plant. One picture is sufficient, and the app is quite responsive even in my old (7 years old) phone. No registration or email is required. You just download it and start identifying plants. However, I do recommend the registration so you can add your plant photo to their database (become a contributor), helping the app in becoming better in identifying plants.
Extra value: PlantNet also provides a list of possible candidates that you can check if you think the first results are not the right one. How do you know? Well, all results come with a large variety of pictures that allows you to understand if your plant matches the first (or 2nd,3rd) result provided by the app.
Although Candide and PlantNet are my favorite apps to identify plants, it is fair for the readers to also have a quick discussion on the other apps I tested. This can be interesting for you (and potentially for the creator if they ever come out to this blog) to understand where they run short.
This app has a good design, and after registration, it allows you to identify 25 plants a day. This is not a primary issue for many, although, for me, it is. This is probably an invitation to upgrade to their paid version, and, honestly, it is fair. Indeed, each app requires thousands of hours of work to be developed before me, and you can use it.
The identification capability is acceptable. However, although not compatible with the other apps, it can improve if you are willing to attempt to take several pictures of the same plant. Indeed, my apple mint was first recognized as a common balm. This has never happened with PlantNet or Candide, with which all different pictures always give the same right answer.
Once you take a picture of the plant, you also have to crop it as the app accepts only square photos. This is not a massive problem as it is quite quick within the app but slows down the process of identification.
The plant identified comes with a description. However, the text is too small and densely packed. People with sight issues will struggle here.
This app is a generalist identifying app. Indeed, you can take a picture of whatever you want (really whatever), and it will link to a shop or to a Wikipedia/website page talking about the object you just take a picture of.
It is extremely useful and fast to use. Not a surprise for a Google app.
Its identification capability is decent, way beyond my expectations. Indeed, Lens is designed to identify any object, and it is not optimized for plants. I did not test it, but, I guess, it will struggle for more specific/less common plants. Indeed, chances are that it is using the extensive online available database of images that, although extremely vast, might not be as detailed focused on plants.
This app does not have any ads and provides some information in the link that comes out after identifying the plants.
This app has an extremely good identification capability, very close to the top.
However, it has a fair amount of ads, with some of them turning the volume of your phone ON even when it is on “quiet mode”. Ads are a great way to allow you and me to use this app for free. However, in this case, I found just a bit too many.
It has a good design and provides some first basic information that can be topped up with links provided by the app as well to Wikipedia or other websites.
Finally, although its identification is good, it is below the average of the other apps. The
However, what prevented it from being at the top was the user experience. This app was the hardest to use.
It requires, at first, the user to identify the type of plant among shrub/herb, tree, sedge/grass, and fern. Some people might not even know the difference between a fern and a shrub.
Moreover, Flora Incognita requires multiple pictures of the plant. This will increase the accuracy; however, people and gardeners I talked to, they like immediate results with just one picture straight away.
This also means that if you took the wrong angle picture with your phone, you might need to retake another picture. But what if you the plant is not in front of you anymore (as you took a picture while walking in an area without internet during the morning, for instance) this is a problem.
The app is fast, it does not contain ads and provides information on the plant identified in an easy to digest manner with a map as well of the area in which it grows (wild).
First and foremost: this is not a free app. Indeed, you have to pay each time you want to identify a plant. However, the idea behind it is pretty cool, so it’s worth mentioning it here if you are interested in it.
Flower checkers (here the website for more) collaborate with a pool of expert botanists (humans, not an algorithm) that identifies the picture of the plant you send to them. You can send them up to 3 photos of the plant, and within 24 hours, they will reply to you with the identification. For that, you have to pay around a dollar for each plant identified.
Why should you use it? I would recommend using this app every time you want to be 100% sure what the plant is. Indeed, the free app mentioned above is very advanced algorithms. They are fast and free. I love them. However, they cannot beat a trained botanist most of the time. Moreover, a dollar is quite a fair price for an advanced opinion.
Does it work? I send pictures of three different herbs. They successfully identified within 24 hours (in a weekend) all of them. So I am sastisfied.
However, for my apple mint, they did not provide the species name as it was difficult. However, after chatting with the botanist (yes, you can do that!) they replied given some tips on how to identify if it was an apple mint or spearmint. Great service without a doubt!
Best Colorful Herb Flowers?
Perhaps you were walking on a park and you bumbed into an amazing flowers. You took out your phone and you identify it straight away with your Candide or PlantNet app.
However, what about if you want to find some red flowers herbs for your house or garden. What about purple flowers? In the article below you can find a detailed color photo guide to the best herb flowers.
How to Identify Plants By Picture Online? If you do not a phone available, but pictures on your laptop or tablet, you can use the free service offered by PlantNet at this web page
Can App Identify Plants disease? Yes, although way less common than app that simply identify plants, app that identify disease do exist and some of them are free. One of the best, at the moment, is Plantix
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