Garden Detective

Jessica Damiano's award-winning garden blog gets to the root of things.

Need to ID a tree? There's an app for that

Picture this: You're walking through a forest. No, you're admiring your neighbor's landscape. Or, wait -- you're on vacation and you can't identify any of the local trees. Regardless, you no longer have to sift through aboriculture encyclopedias trying to figure out exactly what it was you saw. Scientists have developed a mobile app to identify plants and trees simply by photographing a leaf with your smartphone.

Just launch Leafsnap, which currently is available for iPhones and iPads, snap a photo, and the app will search a growing library of foliage images provided by the Smithsonian Institution. Results, returned in seconds, provide the most probable species' name, photos,  and details about  flowers, fruit, seeds and bark. You then use that information to make a final determination. And when you share your findings, the app's database maps the trees' population.

Right now, the app covers all the trees in Central Park, as well as in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. This summer, it's expected include all the trees of the Northeast and eventually, all the trees of North America. The ultimate goal is to ID and map all the trees of the world.

Development so far has cost about $2.5 million, funded primarily by a grant from the National Science Foundation. It's expected to cost another $1 million to cover all the trees in the United States But the best part is it's being offered for free.

Check it out for yourself at leafsnap.com.

This post was supplemented with reports from The Associated Press.

Tags: tools and gear , trees

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