Apps and books to help you spot wild plants.

For this week’s #wildflowerhour post, I thought I’d explain how I go about identifying the wild flowers that I come across.

All my life I’ve used this Collins Wild Guide to teach me about the native flora growing around me. You can buy used copies of it on Amazon dead cheap.

This has most, but not all, of the flowers you are most likely to come across. It’s useful for thumbing through, though if you have no idea what something is, you may have to thumb through the whole book before you find it.

I quite like that, but it is rather frustrating when you get to the end, and you still have no idea what the plant is that you’ve spotted. So for the past few years I’ve been using two apps to help me.

flower apps

The first is Wild Flowers, which you have to pay £3.99 to download, but it’s still cheaper than most wild flower books, and it is super-clever.

You can search for a botanical or common name in its database of more than 1,600 flowers of Western Europe. That’s handy. But what’s really handy is the wizard function:

wild flowers app wizard

You select the various characteristics of the flower you’re trying to spot, and then the wizard suggests plants to match:

wild flowers app ID

You can save them to a list, which if you like to follow how many plants you’ve seen is really, really handy.

The second app is Like That Garden, which scans pictures of your flowers to try to identify them. This isn’t just for wildflowers, but for all plants – which is especially handy when you are abroad.

This came in handy when I was in East Africa recently. I came across this mystery plant by the Serengeti:

mystery plant

To me, it looked like a relative of the primrose. I hunted and googled and tried to work out what it could be. I got nowhere. But then I scanned it in the Like That Garden app:

And there it was: a match. A Crossandra infundibuliformis. I would never have got there on my own. Now, this isn’t actually C. infundibuliformis, as that is a shrub-like plant native to India and Sri Lanka. But a little google for ‘Serengeti crossandra’ told me that I’d found Crossandra subacaulis. I would never have got there on my own.

Sometimes this app, which just matches your photos to other photos of plants, comes up with some completely nonsensical matches, but it has also really helped track down mystery plants, or at least get me very close indeed. It is now an essential part of my flower ID apparatus.

I also use a number of websites to help improve my botanical knowledge. The Wild Flower Finder, which taught me the difference between field scabious and small scabious last week, is not the best-looking site, and the owner seems worried about the bandwidth being exhausted. But it is an essential and very detailed guide to wild flowers, and is particularly useful for helping you understand the differences between very similar flowers. You can also search by colour, and explore within flower families.

Then there’s the Plantlife site, which has a handy, simple guide to some but not all wildflowers. And the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland has links to resources and groups.

Do join this Facebook group on Botanical Keys and How to Use Them, too.

What wild flower books, apps and websites do you use? Post them in the comments or tweet using #wildflowerhour to join in the discussion.


Wild Flower Hour takes place every Sunday at 8pm on twitter and Instagram. Just add #wildflowerhour to your tweets of photos of flowers you’ve found at any time during the week or weekend, and do join the conversation at 8pm on Sunday so that wild flower enthusiasts can find one another and learn more about our amazing native flora.

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