Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Free iPhone App Identifies Tree Leaves

By Wired UK

By Mark Brown, Wired UK

A new iPhone app called LeafSnap is a field guide for tech-friendly naturalists. It can identify a tree’s species by analyzing a photograph of its leaf.

Point your smartphone’s camera at one of nature’s solar cells (laid out flat on a white piece of paper) and the app will go to work. It separates the leaf from the background, and then analyzes the leaf’s shape.

The algorithm, designed by facial recognition experts at Columbia University and the University of Maryland, gets measurements from numerous points along the leaf’s outline. These are then compared to an encyclopedic database of leaves — kindly donated by the Smithsonian Institution and non-profit nature-photography group Finding Species — to give you a result.

If it isn’t completely sure, it will show you an entire collection of possible leafy matches. You can then look at more information on those trees — finding out where they grow, what time of the year their flowers bloom and pictures of their fruits, seeds and bark — to make a proper decision on what type of leaf you’ve got in front of you.

The app also has a dabble in citizen science. Once you’ve correctly labeled your leaf you can tap “label,” which uploads your data to a community of scientists. Your data will be geo-tagged to your current location, letting flora experts map and monitor the ebb and flow of different trees.

Unfortunately for nature geeks (or shape recognition nerds) in the U.K., you’ll probably have trouble getting the app to identify Britain’s native leaves. LeafSnap currently includes the trees of just New York City and Washington D.C. A full rollout covering the United States is planned, but there are no promises for overseas trees.

Android and iPad versions of the app are planned for this summer. In the meantime, download the free iPhone app.

Image: Dave Mosher/