Art + Botany: LeafSnap Field Guide Free App

For those of us who are not botanists and struggle to tell the difference between one tree and another, here’s and app for us – I,m not sure yet if it will help us much with our species here in South Africa, but the  idea is surely encouraging and a matter of time before this collaborative effort  reaches all corners of the globe: From Garden Design Magazine by  Anna Laurent 

PHOTO BY: LeafSnap

Fresh from the digital fields and humming with plant life, LeafSnap is a new mobile app that can identify a tree’s species by looking at a photograph of the leaf. It’s the first of app of its kind, and a field guide for the twenty-first century. Using facial recognition algorithms to analyze the leaf’s contour, LeafSnap then selects a match from its index of species. If it’s not entirely sure (let’s be fair—leaves of different species can look rather similar), it will bring up a list of possible identifications. You can then browse through the collection to determine which tree’s leaf you’re holding. To make this easy, LeafSnap has a botanic dossier on all of its trees, including all sorts of information about the tree’s habitat, growth, and critical specs (are the fruits poisonous or sweet?), as well as a collection of photographs that show the tree’s seeds, bark, flowers, and fruits. The tree’s entire life cycle is captured in a pocket-sized album, at very high resolution. Truly modern, the photographs can be magnified to examine the veins on a petal or the pollen on an anther. A wealth of information and a gorgeous gallery of botanic photography, the guide is also wonderful bedtime reading, when you’re not in the field.  

The app also invites contributions from all citizen scientists; having identified a leaf, users can tag their tree. The data is geotagged and added to a collective map of the different species. While the guide is currently limited to species in the northeast United States, the team has plans to expand its range. LeafSnap is a collaboration between the facial recognition experts at Columbia University and the University of Maryland, a research staff at the Smithsonian Institution, and the non-profit organization Finding Nature, who photographed the specimens. LeafSnap’s website includes information on each tree, and a charming portrait gallery of the team—all photographed with a leaf.

Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. 

One thought on “Art + Botany: LeafSnap Field Guide Free App

  1. jason turner says:

    Absolutely amazing, Donovan. Its just a matter of time before this technology spreads to all shrubs and trees, including, as you mentioned, fynbos shrubs and South African trees. We need to forward your mail to Happy days.

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