Thorny issues solved with a snap and an app

Canada-thistle Photo by Jerrold James Griffith/Shutterstock

Leaves of three — let it be? Not always. Thanks to a plant-identifying app, I found out my three leaves were once used as a herbal remedy for eczema.

I was first introduced to the idea of such an app by a neighbour, after a friend of theirs had used one for an unknown shrub in the garden.

Being a cottager — who was unsure about some of the leaves growing in the woods — I decided to try PictureThis. It’s a free application (app) that allows users to immediately identify plants and trees with the snap of a smartphone camera.

First launched worldwide in summer 2017, PictureThis uses artificial intelligence; scanning its database to locate possible matches (more than 8,000 plant species around the globe). The results? About 90 per cent accuracy in less than a second.

“Before PictureThis, the recognition process was easily affected by illumination, angle and other factors, resulting in high recognition error rates,” said Kinson Xu, Chief Executive Officer with PictureThis. “This meant that users could not use these apps to recognize plants and really enjoy the fun of plant recognition.”

The app was developed by a father who couldn’t identify a plant when his son asked him about it. Wanting to save others from a similar situation, he put his idea into practice.

This image recognition software provides its more than 15 million users with possible options for what a plant or tree might be, including a description; where it grows (moist or dry soil/full sun or shade); historical uses; origin of its name; meaning/symbolism; and wit/wisdom. Sometimes there are even poems about the plants themselves!

“Our deep learning technology enables plant identification to become reality,” explains Xu. “It is the core and the characteristic of PictureThis.”

Each search provides several possible options to ensure the match is completely accurate. But what if the plant or tree is not in the list? Not a problem. Choose the “no match” option. An interactive network of users, in more than 100 countries, can help to identify unknown plants and trees within minutes.

There’s also an active network of horticultural specialists who offer tips and tricks for plant care. The result has been the creation of an online community, dedicated to the love of nature.

“Through the plant map and expert identification functions, users can find flowers around them, or make friends with others who love the same ones,” said Xu. “PictureThis has built a warm and emotional platform for all people who love plants and life, which is why many users choose us.”

The company also has plans for future upgrades, including the identification of additional species, such as mushrooms.

So what was my three-leaf plant — the one that made us weary to venture to that side of the cottage? Turns out its a duchesnea indica, aka a mock strawberry plant. It’s a symbol of love, luck and rewarded effort (how fitting for a cottage). Plus, its crushed leaves were used in the past to treat skin ailments, such as eczema. Who knew?


PictureThis is available for Apple and Android use. It’s important to note that it requires internet connection to use it. To learn more, visit www.picturethisai.com or check them out on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at PictureThisAI).

While this app has worked well for me, there are options for all needs and wants. View a full list of available apps, and their features, in the App Store or via Google Play. Other popular choices include PlantSnap (currently $5.49 in the App Store), which can identify flowers, trees, mushrooms and more within its searchable database. Plus, Garden Answers, which is free to download (has in-app purchases), also allows users to identify plants via photography.

Now that I partially know what’s lurking in the woods. I still need someone to create “Shaz-animal” to help me figure out which animal’s calls have been keeping me up at night.

Featured Video