What is this Plant?

By Pat Naughton

The most common question Master Gardeners are asked is, “What is this plant?”.  Plant identification is an art and science.  The North Carolina State Extension Service offers a six-week course just on this topic. Fortunately, there are some free apps that Master Gardeners use to get an idea of what the plant is.  I tried some of these out in the Master Gardener Botanical Gardens.

  A favorite among Master Gardeners that work in the gardens is “PictureThis”.  The app is free but you can subscribe for less than $3 a month for better accuracy. It does allow ten free IDs. The app works by taking a picture or loading a previous picture then moving the picture to a certain aspect of the plant such as a flower.

  “Plantnet” is free and does not have a premium subscription.  It works much the same way but allows others around the world to comment and help you identify the plant. You start by selecting your country.  You then select a picture or take one. Next you select the part of the plant to focus on, leaf, flower, fruit, bark, habit, or other.  This allows different options to help identify the plant. It will then provide a list and pictures of plants to compare to.  It does not allow moving the picture or zooming in so it is best to edit the picture before loading it.

  “PlantSnap” allows 10 IDs per day free and has option for a premium subscription for unlimited IDs.  It allows zooming in on a picture and sending the picture to be identified.

  I tried each of these on five plants in the botanical gardens.  Here are the results.






Swamp Sunflower

Black Eyed Susan

Orange coneflower

Black Eyed Susan

Indian Blanket Flower



Blanket flower (very close)

Carolina Pholx

Downy phlox

Moss phlox

Yreka phlox

Purple Cone Flower


Blacksamson echinacea


Limelight Hydrangea

Wild hydrangea

Panicled hydrangea

Panicled hydrangea

  In general, all apps have some limitations.  PictureThis identified two of the plants exactly and came close on the other three.  The downside of this app is the limitation on free identifications. The other two apps may be a better option if you want to identify more than 10 plants.  Another option is to bring a cutting of plant to the Brunswick County Extension office at 25 Referendum Dr.


Learn More!

For more information about plant identification, visit https://brunswick.ces.ncsu.edu/, where you can post a question and upload a picture of the plant via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link.