Using the Google Search App for Plant Identification

Over the past few months Kelly and I have been testing Google’s search app, which lets you use your phone’s camera to do a kind of reverse image search, to identify weeds and trees. It’s surprisingly accurate and even when it doesn’t get you to the exact plant it usually shows results close enough to make a good guess with a little more research.

To do an image search you click on the colorful square next to the microphone and allow the app to access your phone’s camera. It seems to work both with long distance shots, for instance a picture of an entire mature tree, or closeups of leaves.

There are other plant identification apps out there that I have tested over the years but none have worked as well as Google’s search app. Google is sitting on way more data than any small-time app maker. Which leads to my disclaimer . . .

While this search ability is amazing, I find Google creepy. Why? Let me list just a few reasons.

  • When you use Google for a search they track your location data. What exactly are they doing with this location data? Yes, you can turn this off but you loose functionality.
  • They gather publicly accessible information about you and hoard it like the Nibelungen hoard their gold.
  • They have monopolized and monetized search.
  • Google’s Director of Engineering is Singularity nutjob Ray Kurzweil who believes we will, someday, be raptured up to the cloud in a perverse, secular form of millenarianism.
  • Google confuses data accumulation with wisdom.
  • See Adam Curtis’ three part series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Part I, PartII, Part III) to see where the nightmarish world Google’s belief in cybernetics will take us.

Enough ranting. You will all have to help still my urge to take a sledgehammer to the whole interwebs.

To that end if any of you know a plant search alternative that works as well as Google please leave a comment. Or perhaps we should all just take our kids for a walk and show them some plants . . .

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  1. Isn’t this the old Faustian bargain? Google/Mephistopheles gives you access to all the knowledge in the world and you surrender all rights to your soul. Not sure exactly which demon Ray Kurzweil is, but more research is needed. I’ll have to use Google for this.

  2. iNaturalist! You can use it and contribute to citizen science but using coords from where you took the photo, obscure them if you are using a sensitive location or species or it is at your house, etc, or keep it ‘casual’ and not include a location but use it just for reference for yourself. I believe they have another app called Seek that is more for what I think you are looking for though I haven’t used it and use iNaturalist. I just put in dummy coords for a nearby location to those that are near where I live, like the corner of an intersection or something.

    I use the desktop version more than the phone version but either works well! And you can learn SO MUCH! Sometimes I’ll just search out by county for a particular genus or family to help narrow down a search but their AI tech is pretty good for suggestions, though not 100% accurate. And someone will usually come in to verify or suggest a change if it isn’t correct but it has improved my identification skills!

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I tested it but, I hate to say it, Google worked a bit better. That said, I trust iNaturalist’s scientific mission a lot more than whatever Google is doing with the data.

  3. Someone in my fb bug group used Google lens to id a leafhopper. Google lens said it was a Chinook helicopter.

    • Ha ha! Over the weekend I watched Wagner’s opera Das Reingold. YouTube’s algorithm suggested I follow up that viewing by watching Siegfried and Roy.

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