by Jared Goplen – Extension Educator, Crops
It really can be that simple. Last summer I was introduced to an app / website called iNaturalist, a tool commonly used by those working in natural resources. While it can be used to help identify nearly any species, it works especially well to identify weeds. Best of all it is free!
The app / website works by using facial recognition software and machine-learning to provide an instantaneous “likely” ID based on what the software matches the picture to. The app then provides descriptions and pictures of the “likely” matches to help determine what the species might be. Finally, you can upload the photo so other users can confirm your ID or provide other suggestions via crowdsourcing.
At first I was skeptical that an app like this would actually be useful. In trying it last summer, however, even difficult identifications would at least key to the genus-level with the photo-recognition aspect. This at least sped up the process of using a weed-ID key or guidebook to make a positive ID. As long as you take good pictures, the crowdsourcing function should generate a positive ID for you or confirm the ID you come up with.
I encourage everyone to try the app this field season. You can test it out now by using pictures saved from last year. I haven’t tried it on many crop diseases or insect pests, but it does have the capacity to identify fungi and insects as well. At the very least, this app should enhance your identification skills. If it works for you like it has for me, the app will make you look really smart once in a while.
Figure: Screenshot of a giant ragweed photo uploaded into iNaturalist. Based only on the photo, there is a level of certainty that the plant is in the Ambrosia genus, with the top suggestion being the correct ID of giant ragweed. If I select giant ragweed and upload the photo, other users can confirm or provide alternative identifications.