Nine-Minute Naturalist: Apps Are Awesome

By David,

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Apps Are Awesome

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!

Much of my adult life has been spent in a state of cell phone aversion. I actively avoided owning a cell phone until 2011. Despite this distaste for having to carry a cell phone at all times, I will admit I have officially come around to plant I.D. apps. I resisted primarily because I don’t like using my phone when I am out in the woods and I prefer the process of keying out an unknown plant. I am now officially on the plant I.D. bandwagon. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will highlight a few of my favorite apps that you may find useful.

Before I get into the specifics of different plant apps, I must apply a few caveats. The first is that I am cheap and only use free plant I.D. apps. There may be wonderful apps that cost money but I don’t use them. The second is that the majority of apps identify plants based off previous user’s positive identifications. Some answers you receive are incorrect and you will need to not always accept the identification as “gospel” truth. The last caveat is that I am not an expert on app construction or performance. I am judging them merely based on features I enjoy and find particularly unique.

My preferred plant app is iNaturalist. There are a few primary features that make it stand out to me. The best feature is that it covers not just plants but fungi, salamanders and a host of other things from the natural world. This app is especially interactive. Users can interact and suggest possible identifications allowing for more accurate results. When multiple users assist in a plant I.D., quality rankings are created thus increasing confidence in the decision. Another positive to iNaturalist is the map feature. When accessing this feature, the user can see all the identifications previously done in their current area. This feature also allows for easy collaboration on projects. The Nature Foundation has created the Wintergreen Biodiversity project on iNaturalist that allows for anyone to enter their sightings to our species list. Go to or search Wintergreen Biodiversity on the iNaturalist app to participate.

My second favorite app is the PlantNet app. My preferred feature on this app is the search engine. It is much easier to search plants via the common name or by genus and family. The pictures on screen are a bit bigger and allow for better quality I.D. than other apps. You can also rule out plants from other regions by being able to work with a specific area’s flora. Unfortunately this app doesn’t do anything outside of the plant world so you can’t use it in the field to I.D.fungi or salamander. Also, the interface is often clunky and a bit slow.

The other app I use but rate it a bit below the iNaturalist and PlantNet is PictureThis. I like this app for the ease and speed of identification. It has one of the easiest interfaces to work with immediately upon opening the app. The major con to this app is the constant attempt to make you sign up and pay for the app. There is a premium service option that is fine if you could seek it out and pay if you so choose. The problem is that every time you open the app you have to close out the sales pitch screen in order to get to the useful information. They even put a premium service button on each screen so it is very easy to click on it accidentally and sign up. If you use this app, know what you are getting in for.

Plant I.D. apps are quite the handy invention and can be very helpful in increasing your knowledge. The key is to use the one that fits your needs and makes the process of identification easier and more fun. Don’t hesitate to dip your toes in the water…feels great to me.


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