I want to tell you about an app that could be useful to you as you spend more time outdoors. This free app is called PlantFinder and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I have it downloaded on my Android phone from the Google Play store but according to a search I did today on the Apple app store, it is also available for Apple products. Since it is free it does have ads, but you can pay a small subscription fee to avoid the ads if you prefer. The ads pop up after you take a photo of a plant and before it loads the results that display the plant’s name and identifying information. I try to remember to turn my phone’s volume down, otherwise it can be quite intrusive during a quiet nature walk.
I have used PlantFinder to successfully identify plants I see while walking trails. Sadly, many of them were invasive species. Examples from a recent outing include honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), and creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). The results aren’t always as specific as I would like. For instance, I was hoping to refresh my memory on what variety of apple tree is growing in my back yard, but PlantFinder could only tell me that it is an “Apple tree,” rather than confirm if it was Honeycrisp or Zestar. I suppose that is only fair, as the fruit hasn’t even appeared yet. I have a Japanese dappled willow (Salix integra) in my front yard and when I snapped a photo of it to test it out on the app, it came back with the result, “Grey willow,” (Salix atrocinerea). Those are not exactly the same things, but it at least got the genus right. Sometimes, though rarely, PlantFinder can get it wrong. For instance, it thought my rose bush was a buckthorn. Perhaps when it blooms I’ll take another photo and get better results. Overall, however, I have been very pleased. It keeps a record of the photos, dates, plant names and details of what you have previously looked up. Access it by tapping “My Plants.” It also offers a “Plant Care” section that will help you keep track of watering & fertilizing frequency for the plants you cultivate at home.
In my opinion, the real test of usefulness is if it it can successfully identify poison ivy, which it did when I sought out and (fortunately? unfortunately?) found a rarer variety called Western Poison Ivy. I wondered if it would show a bright word of caution on the results page for plants like poison ivy that can cause rashes or allergic reactions, but it did not. So although it can successfully identify poison ivy, you still have to be reasonably savvy when you’re out there and take care not to touch any of the wild plants as you are taking photographs.
I would love to hear your comments if you decide to try this app after reading this, or if you are already familiar with it share your experiences. Have fun out there and stay safe!
guest post by Laura
I will never look at trees in the same way again.
Most among us look out at a forest and see greenery. Some people may be able identify a tree species or two but most of us don’t give much thought to the beings that far outnumber humans on Earth. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben explores the intricacies of trees in a humorous and lively narrative.
It is only a surprise that trees have social structures and can care for other trees because of the way we are taught to think (or not think) about them. It makes sense. They’re living organisms like other living creatures that have evolved to survive over millennia. Why wouldn’t they be complex organisms with the capacity to interact with one another in both communal sharing and competition?
He explores how mycorrhizal fungi play important roles in soil biology and chemistry. Plants and fungi created a symbiotic relationship long ago and the details of their nutrient exchanges are cool enough alone. He also talks about the fungal strands acting like fiber optic cables to form a network not quite like James Cameron’s Avatar but amazing nonetheless.
Thanks to Wohlleben, when I see single trees of a species alone in a park or surrounded by concrete, I think “street kids” and when I look at the giant oaks in my neighborhood, I think, “It’s a family! I wonder which one’s the mother?” and “How old are they really?” I noticed the leaves of a neighborhood tree turned color in the fall on the side not exposed to a streetlight but not the other. This had escaped my notice before.
Wohlleben goes too far in anthropomorphizing trees at times. He didn’t need to do this since his subject matter and the way he relates is are compelling enough. Yes, he turned the seemingly dry subject of woody plants into a lush account of the complex inner lives of trees and along the way, we learn why this subject is important to all of us and our future.
American Canopy is a fascinating and unique historical work that tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Americans and trees across the entire span of our nation’s history.
The history of trees in America is no less remarkable than the history of the United States itself–from the majestic white pines of New England, coveted by the British Crown for use as masts in navy warships, to the orange groves of California, which lured settlers west. In fact, without the country’s vast forests and the hundreds of tree species they contained, there would have been no ships, docks, railroads, stockyards, wagons, barrels, furniture, newspapers, rifles, or firewood. No New York City, Miami, or Chicago. No Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone. America – if indeed it existed – would be a very different place without its millions of acres of trees.
As Eric Rutkow’s epic account shows, trees are indivisible from the country’s rise as both an empire and a civilization. Never before has anyone treated our country’s trees and forests as the subject of a broad historical study, and the result is an accessible, informative, and thoroughly entertaining read. (description from publisher)
The next time you’re thinking about adding a tree or bush to your landscape, consider one that bears fruit. Most are just as beautiful as “ornamental” trees and they have the added bonus of rewarding you with fresh, delicious fruit!
Lee Reich, well known in gardening circles for his excellent The Pruning Book, now brings us Landscaping with Fruit. He’s gone through all the varieties and types of fruiting plants available and compiled a list of the best – best for beauty, ease of maintenance and tasty fruit. Only plants that meet all three requirements are included. Among others you’ll find sweet cherry, raspberries, grapes and apples as well as exotic tropicals that can be grown in pots. You’ll find that alpine strawberries make excellent edging plants and blueberries make beautiful shrubs year round.
In addition to information on plant varieties, Reich has an excellent section on growing and maintaining, and lots of ideas on how to incorporate these plants in your yard (so it doesn’t look like you’ve plopped an orchard down in your front yard) What about an alle of pear trees along your front walk? Or a hedge of strawberries, Nanking cherry and red current? Or try surrounding a patio with huckleberry, blueberry and Juneberries. The possibilities are endless – and delicious!