Categorizing and classifying: these are the sorts of things that taxonomists are good at. While the rest of us may be able to sort our clothes by brand, our plant classification skills have really gone downhill in the last 100 years. Today, our hunting and gathering takes place in the grocery store, where there are convenient little signs above the fruit, proclaiming that this apple is a McIntosh, Fuji, or Gala.
I’m someone who works outdoors, and I love knowing which plants are which. It’s rather useful to know your stinging nettles and your poison ivy, of course. It’s also helpful to know that certain berries won’t poison you and that certain fungi definitely will. I like eating wild plants, and I like using them as medicine. Like all naturalists, I have my favorite field guides. However, I may have just found a new favorite: Leafsnap. To the amateur or professional naturalist, Leapsnap is the coolest brain extension (oops, I mean – app) that you ever did see.
What is Leafsnap? It’s biometrics for plants. The same technology that can be used to scan your facial features can now scan leaves. It’s a free app that allows you to scan a leaf and help you identify the plant, and it comes to us courtesy of Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Imagine walking through the woods. You see a plant. You wonder whether it’s edible, or whether it could make you itchy. You take out your phone, snap a picture, and connect to Leafsnap, which gives you options that will help you determine what your plant might be. It’s like having a really outdoor-savvy friend who lives in your pocket. An outdoor-savvy friend who doesn’t eat much or make your place messy.
Right now, the technology is limited to the plants of Washington, DC and New York. After all, there are a lot of leaves out there to catalogue. If you’re a leaf aficionado and you want to help, the Leafsnap website lists volunteer opportunities. So get snap happy and start scanning!