Ever seen a tree in a park or your neighbour’s front yard and thought “I want that tree for my garden. What on earth is it?” I just discovered there’s an app for that. Two universities and the Smithsonian Institution collaborated on Leafsnap, a free tree field guide for iPhone introduced three years ago. (OK–so now you know not to come to me for breaking tech news.) But I’ve found this thing and I’m going to solve a few tree mysteries of my own with it. It’s easy. You just take one whole leaf, place it against a solid, light-coloured background and snap it. The image is uploaded to a server and visual recognition software (using some of the same techniques for face recognition) finds the leaf’s best match.
For now, the app can only i.d. leaves from trees growing in the northeastern U.S. but that’s just fine for us folks in Southern Ontario. And you need to either have Wi-Fi on or a good cell connection for the leaf recognition service to work. When you’re not connected, though, you can still browse through your own leaf collection and check out the database of tree information. But what I’m loving best about the app is that anyone using it is automatically a contributing researcher. Your snapped leaves and the info about them, including geo-coded stamps of species locations, is shared with a community of scientists who are mapping and monitoring trees. I can’t wait for summer to get started.