If you’ve ever wondered what species a plant is when you’re out and about, you might have found how difficult it can be to find an exact match. Using one of the best apps for identifying plants can save you time as there are many thousands of plant species on earth and some can look near identical to an untrained eye.
Thankfully technology has advanced and smart phones are getting smarter every year. The apps on your iPhone take advantage of the advancements in technology, enabling them to display augmented reality creations and utilize new identification services.
Google has a visual search engine called Google Goggles. It’s pretty good at finding matches. Unfortunately, you can’t use a smartphone’s camera and identify objects in real time yet. You’ll need to take a photo and upload it to Google’s servers that takes care of the processes to locate a match (or near match).
Your iPhone works as the perfect camera/computer combo to identifying plants and you have a surprising selection of free plant identifying apps to choose from.
The Best Free Apps For Identifying Plants On iPhone
Can identify lots of items
Unique suggestion system that makes narrowing down the results fast.
Irrelevant plant suggestions
While researching for this article, I was pleasantly surprised to find half a dozen free plant identification apps available.
I was hoping at least one of them would be good enough to use in real life – you can just open the app, snap a photo and boom here’s the plant species.
The Test Plants
I’ll test each app with the same set of plants:
- Mystery plant
- Oak tree
- Mystery plant
All the apps will be tested at the same time (incase sunlight / shadows affects them) to keep things fair. I won’t be overly careful taking the photos either, you wouldn’t do that in real life so I’m not going to do that for this test.
Point. Shoot. Find the plant species. That is the plan!
I’m leaving two mystery plants in there because I don’t know what they are and want to know!
I figured by the end of this research I’ll have enough data to correctly identify them…hopefully.
Let’s checkout the best free iPhone apps on the Apple App Store that can accurately identify plants in real time.
1. Seek By iNaturalist (Free Plant Identifying App)
The first free plant identifying app I wanted to show you first is from iNaturalist and it’s called Seek. It’s extremely well reviewed, with over 28,000 ratings and a near 5/5 score.
I’m going to test this app and report back if it’s any good and if it’s worth your time downloading it.
When you first setup the app it asks you for your location so it can narrow down the species that could be living there. There’s no point in the Seek app taking into consideration species that don’t actually live where you are.
Rose Bush (Seek By iNaturalist)
First let’s test it against the rose bush.
Seek by iNaturalist was able to correctly identify the rose bush and it took maybe 30 seconds. You don’t even need to tap the photo button (circle, bottom center of screen above). The app will say at the top what species of plant you’re looking at.
if you notice the green dots under the word “roses” in the above photo, it signifies how strong of a match the iNaturalist app has made. This time almost all the green dots were showing, meaning the Seek app by iNaturalist was fairly confident in what it was suggesting.
Mystery Plant 1 (Seek By iNaturalist)
Next is the mystery plant. I’ve no idea what it is, but it loves the weather and soil we have.
Here’s what Seek by iNaturalist thinks the mystery plant it:
This app thought the mystery tree was a “Tree-Of-Heaven” species. You can tap the green camera icon and the app will save the photo to “Your Observations” for future reference. I looked up Tree Of Heaven because that’s a plant that would be too cool to have growing in my yard out of the blue.
It turns out, it’s anything BUT heaven. It’s an invasive species that can flourish where little else will. It can survive on little moisture and it’s roots can crack walkways and cause havoc to sewage systems. I’m getting rid of it after discovering this!
Oak Tree (Seek By iNaturalist)
The next tree I tested with this app was the oak tree. This tree has the classic oak style leaves and should be super easy to identify by any app that claims it can do so.
The Seek app by iNaturalist was able to quickly identify the Oak tree correctly and even further specified it was a Bur Oak.
Mystery Plant 2 (Seek By iNaturalist)
We have a bush/tree that grows ferociously almost anywhere. It’s also hard to kill. Several times I’ve chopped it back to a stump and it still grows new shoots within a few weeks. It does get invaded by a swarm of bugs that chew on it’s leaves, but I’m not sure if that’s got to do with the area Vs the type of tree.
This is what the Seek app made of the mystery plant 2:
So the Seek app thinks my mystery plant 2 is a Siberian elm.
Let’s look at some photos to compare:
Looks pretty close to me!
Seek by iNaturalist Summary
Plants isn’t the only thing that the Seek app by iNaturalist can help you identify, you can also identify everything from spiders to fungi to mammals to reptiles.
Overall this is a great app to add to your iPhone and quickly produces accurate results when tasked with identifying plants and animals.
DOWNLOAD: Download this app for free on the App Store here.
2. PlantNet (Free Plant Identification App)
PlanetNet works in a similar way to the last app, Seek.
You point your iPhone’s camera at a plant and it’ll try to match it with one of its plants in its database. A unique feature of PlantNet is that you can submit the plants you asked the app to identify to a database so researchers can use it.
Before PlantNet suggests possible plant matches, you have to choose if the photo you take is of leaves, fruit or bark. This helps PlantNet narrow down the results and speeds up the time it takes to suggest relevant ones to you.
Let’s see how it compares with our first app.
Rose Bush (PlantNet)
Right away you’ll notice the interface isn’t as slick as Seek. You have to take a photo of the plant you’re needing to be identified, then upload that to PlantNet’s servers and wait for the response (and hopefully the correct identification).
It works well though. The results screen will give you a few different options – each with photo examples and a match percentage. The higher the match percentage, the more confident the PlantNet app is that the match is correct.
For the roses, the PlantNet app was confident it was a rose and gave me a few options to further narrow down the actual genus of roses I was looking at. Unfortunately my rose identification skills aren’t as sharp as they were, but from the photos the top match looked promising “Rosa Rubiginosa”.
Mystery Plant #1 (PlantNet)
PlantNet was fast at suggesting what the mystery plant #1 might be, with Tree Of Heaven at the top of the list with a 77% accuracy score.
Oak Tree (PlantNet)
The Oak tree was quickly identified by the PlantNet app, it also matched it to a specific type of Oak tree – the Bur Oak. Surprisingly, the match only came back with a 36% accuracy score.
Mystery Plant #2 (PlantNet)
The mystery plant #2 is seemingly not a mystery any longer. The PlantNet app identified it as a Siberian elm with an 80% accuracy score.
PlantNet did a good job of matching the plants to it’s database of results. I liked that there was a matching score and you get several real world photos to compare your plant to. It’s not as polished as some of the other free plant identifier apps on this list, but it works and works well. Can’t beat that for free really.
You can download PlantNet on the App Store for free here.
3. Plant Identification ++Plants (Free Plant Identifying App)
Plant Identification ++Plants has a long name but a simple interface. It’s a free plant identification app that will match what you take a photo of with it’s database of plants.
Let’s see how it does against our four test plants.
Roses (Plant Identification ++Plants)
The Plant Identification ++Plants app correctly identified the plant as a rose and even further specified it was a California wild rose. It did only score it with 29% estimated probability, which is a bit low to make any sorts of decisions from.
Mystery Plant #1 (Plant Identification ++Plants)
With the mystery plant #1, the Plant Identification ++Plants app matched it with a Persian Silk Tree and only a 19% probability score. This is probably wrong, with the last two apps identifying it as a Tree Of Heaven.
Oak Tree (Plant Identification ++Plants)
The Plant Identification ++ app matched the Oak tree with a Valley Oak tree with a 34% accuracy probability.
Mystery Plant #2 (Plant Identification ++Plants)
The match given by the Plant Identification ++ Plants app came back as a Cedar Elm which is in line with the other apps I tested today. It’s only 33% accuracy probability, though I’m not sure what the camera has to see for a much higher accuracy probability.
Plant Identification ++Plants Summary
The app correctly identified 75% of the test plants it performed a match on. It’s not very pretty to use and when it’s wrong it’s really wrong. Might be ok for a check but I wouldn’t rely on this app to identify plants accurately.
You can download Plant Identification ++Plants for free on the App Store here.
4. Photo Plant Identification
This is another no-frills free plant identification app simply called Photo Plant Identification.
It works much like the other apps you’ve seen so far.
Open the app, tap either gallery or camera depending if you took the photo earlier or you’re right in front of it and can take a live photo.
Before you begin identifying a plant with this app, you have to scan your surroundings to the artificial intelligence inside the app can figure out what you’re looking at.
Let’s see how well it identified the test plants we’ve been using.
Roses (Photo Plant Identification)
The actual photo the app had to work off wasn’t blurry. The preview for some reason comes back blurry. The app matched the roses with a Gum tree and 53% confidence. It’s completely wrong and even the other suggestions at the bottom of the screen were wrong too – Guinea flower or a Creeping fig.
Mystery Plant #1 (Photo Plant Identification)
The app matched the mystery tree with a Zebra plant and only 34% confidence. The other suggestions were miles off too – Polkweed, Tanoak and Inga. One suggestion wasn’t bad – Alphanes – but it only put 9% confidence weight on this one.
Oak Tree (Photo Plant Identification)
This was the only plant that was sort of correctly identified by the Photo Plant Identification app. It called it a “Scrub Oak” but with only 31% confidence. The other suggestions weren’t even in the same planet – Fiddle leaf fig or land cress?
Mystery Plant #2 (Photo Plant Identification)
The Photo Plant Identification app struggled here and suggested Extinguisher Moss as a 33% match. Other suggestions were Willow and Water Fern.
Photo Plant Identification Summary
A good app idea but weak matches and an unattractive interface makes this free plant identification app hard to recommend.
Want to try it yourself? You can download Photo Plant Identification on the App Store here.
The Best Plant Identification Apps Summary
I was surprised by the results and how accurate some of the apps I tested were. Overall, Seek by iNaturalist is the best free app for identifying plants. It has a slick user interface, is easy to use and quickly identifies plants.
For the mystery plants, it looks like #1 is a Tree of Heaven and #2 is a type of elm, possibly Siberian elm.
Siberian elms are an invasive species of plant and it grows ferociously. I can confirm it grows like no other! It’s also very hardy and difficult to kill without removing the stump.
It was interesting to learn that both of the mystery plants were invasive species – they both randomly started growing without intentionally planting anything. Another factor that suggests they are invasive.
Update: After a bit more research I’m pretty confident mystery plant #1 was correctly identified as a Tree of Heaven. It was immediately removed and had a healthy root system on it. Check out this photo:
My recommendation for best plant identification app for iPhone or iPad is the Seek by iNaturalist app. Download it on the App Store here.
|Rose||Mystery Plant 1||Oak||Mystery Plant 2|
|Seek by iNaturalist||✔||Tree of Heaven||✔||Siberian Elm|
|PlantNet||✔||Tree of Heaven||✔||Siberian Elm|
|Plant Identification ++ Plants||❌||Persian Silk Tree||❌||Cedar Elm|
|Photo Plant Identification||❌||Zebra Plant||❌||Extinguisher Moss|
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the best free plant identification app for iPhone.
What are the best plant identification apps for iPhone?
The best free plant identification apps are Seek by iNaturalist and PlantNet.
Is there a free app for identifying plant diseases?
There are apps that will help you identifying plant diseases like Plant & Disease Identifier and Plant & Disease Identification (similar names, different apps). Almost all of the options here had in-app purchases which means they’re probably not very useful to download on their own.
Is there an app that can identify local plants and flowers?
Yes, Seek by iNaturalist asks for your location before it starts suggesting possible matches. This means the app will only suggest plants that are known to be local and in your area. If you find an invasive species that shouldn’t be in your area, the app will still recognize and identify the plant.