By Kim Lachance Shandrow, Tecca
Like the Lorax, Leafsnap speaks for the trees. Right now, that includes hundreds of varieties of North American trees, and the number is still growing. This eye candy of an image search app is the world’s first interactive digital field guide to foliage — and it’s free! Leafsnap lets non-botanists like us instantly identify trees by snapping photos of leaves with our iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Download Leafsnap and see the forest for the trees like you’ve never seen it before.
Name that tree
Can’t identify a particular tree? Let Leafsnap (put together by the University of Maryland’s Columbia University and the Smithsonian Institute’s brains and botanists) do it for you. The edutaining app treats you to stunning images of trees in all their glorious botanical beauty, one crisp, high-resolution, Finding Species-search return photo at a time.
Naturally, using Leafsnap is a snap. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.) First, gently pluck a complete, untorn leaf from the tree you want to identify, or snatch one off the ground. Next, lay the leaf on a solid, light-colored background like (ironically) a white piece of paper. Open Leafsnap on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and launch your device’s camera function. Finally, aim your device at the entire leaf, select Snap It!, and let Leafsnap work its scientific magic.
How it works
Using a blend of biometrics and botany that we won’t even pretend to explain (and which just happen to be the same algorithms that let you tag photos on Facebook), Leafsnap shows and tells you precisely which mystery tree species your leaf is from, fancy scientific name and all. Thanks to Leafsnap, you’ll become a walking encyclopedia on tree flowers, fruits, seeds, petioles (stalks that join leaves to stems), and bark. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.
For the love of trees
Aside from making you the most tree-wise person in the forest (or room), Leafsnap should give you a natural appreciation for the leafy, oxygen-emitting friends we can’t live without. We hope it also inspires you to protect them from being among the 3 to 6 billion trees that are razed every year and then nonsustainably reincarnated into paper, mulch, and objects to sit on or eat off of. (Learn more about that at the Rainforest Action Network.) Who knows? Maybe you’ll be moved to plant a few trees of your own.
We wish we could tell you that Leafsnap will help you steer clear of poison ivy and poison oak, but it won’t — not yet, anyway. Perhaps you’ll be the first to add the dubious duo to the app’s ever-growing database. Or maybe we’ll have to wait for the release of PoisonousPlantsnap.
Fun Leafsnap extras
Between Leafsnaps, feel free to keyword search or alphabetically browse Leafsnap’s growing database, or test your budding leaf and tree matching expertise in the Games tab. Green Sweep is our favorite, even if it’s incredibly hard. And of course, you can also admire your personal collection of unique leaf photos, which are automatically added to Leafsnap’s database each time you use them to name that tree.
Currently, Leafsnap only identifies trees in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast, but not for long. Soon, developers say, the earthy app will speak for (and name) every last tree species in the continental United States.
Why trees matter
Trees help us breathe easier. More trees equals less air pollution, cleaner air, healthier lungs, and cleaner water. More tree shade, especially urban tree shade, equals lower temperatures, fewer undesirable weather pattern shifts, less global warming, and less noise pollution.
Clearly, trees are our friends. So please love them, hug them if you must, and treat them with the care and respect they deserve. Whatever you do, do not cut them down. Leafsnap them— and plant them — instead.