In the Garden

What the Heck is That?

Occasionally, I come across something in our yard or during a walk and I have no earthly idea what it is. It could be a bug, a flower, a plant, or animal tracks that I have not encountered. I will usually pull out my smartphone and take a couple of pictures to use later to try to find out what the heck it was that caught my attention. Luckily, several apps are available that can either identify the thing I’m staring at or put it in a category I can investigate later.

Google Lens [Free]

This add-on to the Google browser lets me upload a picture of flora or fauna to identify and pictures of obscure kitchen utensils, electrical components, and unknown mechanical devices whose functions have left me puzzled.

PlantNet [Free]

PlantNet is an open-source app that focuses solely on plant identification. It uses crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence to identify diverse species, which is especially helpful when searching for plants in different regions.

PictureThis [Free and paid]

This robust recognition app identifies and provides detailed plant information, including care tips and potential diseases. It is an excellent tool for gardeners, both seasoned and new to the green scene.

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The Seek app will help identify plants and animals.

Seek by iNaturalist [Free]

A user-friendly interface and excellent accuracy make animal and plant identification easy and satisfying. It is a good choice for families out on the nature trail.

iNaturalist [Free]

This more comprehensive parent of the Seek app goes beyond exploration and into documentation, collaboration, and sharing your discoveries with a community of nature lovers and citizen scientists to learn about biodiversity.

My Nature Animal Tracks [Paid]

This powerful app is designed explicitly for animal identification. It has searchable databases for tracks, scats, and examples of gaits and foot structures.

iTrack Wildlife [Free and paid]

This app is a handy tool that works entirely offline. The Pro version searches a database with over 800 track photographs and 138 drawings.

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Use the Merlin ID app for the “birder” in you.

Merlin Bird ID [Free] 

Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin specializes in bird identification by description, image, and sound. Users can record bird songs, and Merlin will use its extensive database to identify the birds.

Picture Insect [Paid]

Take a photo of an insect or upload one from your phone. This AI-fueled app will quickly recognize and provide information about various insect species. 

PlantSnap [Free and paid]

PlantSnap boasts instantaneous, accurate results in seconds and is more precise than not. It can identify 90% of all known species of plants and trees from over 600,000 plants in its searchable database and includes care tips and potential pest and disease issues. 

LeafSnap [Paid]

Serious plant enthusiasts seeking in-depth information will like the extensive database, options to download care guides, and program reminders sent to their phones regarding when scheduled care is due.

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Netvue Birdfy Bird Feeder: Colorful and functional.

For the Birds

So you want to invite feathered friends to your backyard and wish to identify the bird species chowing down on your avian clickbait? In that case, there are now “smart feeders” that will not only feed and snap pics of your visitors but also use AI to identify them. Check these out: Bird Buddy Smart Bird Feeder, $259; Netvue Birdfy Bird Feeder, $225; Solium BF08 Solar Smart Bird Feeder, $199; Birdkiss Smart Bird Feeder, $169; Osoeri Bird Feeder, $139.

Sound Fishy?

If you want to identify your finny friends, several apps— like Fishbrain, Picture Fish, Fish ID, and more—have databases containing hundreds of fresh, salt, and brackish-water denizens. But be wary: a few are free-trial-based, and their rollover into paid subscription plans can be a little fishy.  


Broc Sears

Broc Sears is an assistant professor of professional practice at TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication and also works with the Texas Center for Community Journalism. He has more than three decades of experience in the news, advertising and marketing industries and earned recognition from the Society for News Design, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, APME of Texas and the Dallas Press Club. He and his wife enjoy the best days of their lives here in Dallas with their family.

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