Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the name of every plant you stumble upon. There are apps that can help, and even professional conservationists turn to these tools to help them with their work. Once you know a plant’s name, you’re also halfway to knowing how to take care of it.
If all you want is a free app that can identify plants for you, then your search may just begin and end with Seek by iNaturalist. This app’s primary purpose is to provide you with the names of plants and animals in your region, along with additional information about each one, in an effort to get you to leave the house. It’s a great app to take with you camping, assuming you’ve managed to keep your phone charged outdoors.
Seek doesn’t contain ads, so your free experience is feature-complete and relatively undisturbed. There are some prompts to create an account with iNaturalist, which enables syncing across devices, location-based suggestions, and social features. Creating an iNaturalist account is also free.
iNaturalist is a non-profit aimed at getting you to interact more with the natural world. So, to that end, the app does contain challenges and provides you with badges based on what you are able to identify. On the downside, Seek sometimes fails to identify the precise species you’re looking at, providing instead only a best guess of the family or genus. Other apps deliver more reliable results.
Download: Seek (Free)
PictureThis isn’t free, but if you’re frustrated about other apps failing to identify a plant enough to pay for something better, PictureThis is your best bet. The app accurately represented plants around my home, even in the dead of winter, where many of them are dormant husks of their vibrant summer selves.
After recognizing a plant, PictureThis delivers a broad scope of useful information. If you’re looking for what to grow in a garden, you will find the information you need. The app will also help you weed out invasive species. While other apps differentiate themselves by specializing in a specific type of information, PictureThis’s focus is on accurately identifying plants and being as comprehensive as possible. You get information about a plant’s native habitat, what conditions it thrives in, and the potential physiological benefits of growing the plant in your home (along with tips on which room to place it in).
The app claims to recognize over 17,000 types of plants, a far larger number than the competition. This isn’t a number I can verify first-hand, but from my time trying out apps, PictureThis delivered both the fastest and most consistently reliable results.
Download: PictureThis (Subscription required)
Say you’re identifying a plant not because you’re out on a hike but because you want to know how to care for a plant that you’ve brought into your home. Planta strives to be your companion on your plant care journey, regardless of your skill level. For that reason, it comes with amenities catered to absolute beginners. Planta is one of the best apps to help you keep your houseplants alive.
Planta can tell you which plants not to waste your time with if you live in a location where they won’t particularly thrive or will require a higher time commitment than you care to make. Once you have plants, you can receive notifications reminding you when to provide care, such as when to water your pothos plant or mist your fiddle-leaf fig (just don’t glance at it sideways, or a leaf will fall off).
As for taking a picture of plants and telling you what they are, you’ll need a premium subscription. That makes Planta less appealing as an app used solely for identifying plants, but it makes the list anyway because it goes further than other apps in helping you use the information provided and setting you up for success.
Download: Planta (Free, optional subscription with extra features)
PictureThis and Planta are both great tools, but they may offer more information than you really need. If that’s the case for you, consider Blossom. It’s no slouch in the information department, but the app presents things in a way that feels even more straightforward.
Blossom can take photos to identify plants or to diagnose their health. You can save plants you’ve identified in your garden (so you can find them again later), and there’s a fourth section that offers plenty of plant care basics. But if you’re just looking to figure out what a plant is, the gardening bits are easy to ignore. What matters is that the app does a speedy and decent job of identifying the plant you’re looking at. You can take a few photos for free, but a premium subscription is required if you want unlimited snaps.
Download: Blossom (Free, optional subscription with extra features)
Google Lens stands apart from the other recommendations—it’s not here to just identify plants. Rather, Google Lens’ job is to identify anything and everything. Snap a picture of something, and Lens will do a visual Google search, delivering results based on what Google deduces you’ve taken a picture of.
As a result, that makes Google Lens a pretty handy app for naming plants. Take a picture of a snake plant, and you will get search results for a snake plant. You can then read any of those articles for more detailed information rather than relying on the Lens app for that. That makes Lens perhaps the most minimalist option here.
There are weaknesses to this approach. You’re dependent on Google accurately guessing what you’ve taken a picture of, which it doesn’t always do. Then, you’re stuck with the quality of the results, which can be inconsistent. If you’re seriously into plants, it’s worth going for one of the more specialized apps instead.
Download: Google Lens (Free)
These general-purpose plant identification apps are great, but they have their limitations. Sometimes, a program simply can’t pinpoint a plant from a photo, and unless you use multiple apps, you don’t know for sure that the app got it right. Fortunately, there are other resources available to help you determine a plant the somewhat old-fashioned way.
Flora of Virginia, for example, is an app available to help people learn and identify plants in the US state of Virginia. Governments, non-profits, or other organizations may have released something similar for your area, so keep an eye out for these more niche apps as well.