What plant is this? I stare at the green blob in the photo, frustrated that the cell phone camera focused on the fence in back rather than the leaves in front. Is it a shrub or a tree? How can I possibly identify it if I can’t even see it?
What will this seedling grow into? Is it a weed? There are two cotyledons and two true leaves, and they look like every other seedling in my book.
Straining at my computer screen, I try to determine if the leaf scars meet across the stem. Unfortunately, I can’t really see the stem because it’s hidden behind the foliage. So much for using a key!
But there are rewards as well. I can’t help feeling competent (and perhaps a bit too superior) when I look at a picture and immediately know what the answer is.
I’ve discovered new plants, such as strawberry spinach and Yellow Globe Cornflower. I’ve learned that catalpas and maples (and many other trees) can get vermicillium wilt—I thought it just infected peppers, tomatoes and strawberries!
And I’m working with a team of incredibly nice plant people who really know their stuff. They’re teaching me so much!
You may have already heard of Garden Compass. It’s an app that (so far) only runs on Apple products—the iPhone and iPod. (I have an android phone, so I was clueless.) The idea is that you take a picture of a plant and send it to Garden Compass. You can ask to have it identified or ask about a problem such as an insect pest or disease. The all-knowing plant people at Garden Compass answer your question and post the answer where you can get it online. It’s such a great idea that the company is growing like bindweed in midsummer!
What does this have to do with me? I’m not an all-knowing plant person!
Well, a friend of mine has been one of their consultants, specializing in the Rocky Mountain region. Her work load finally increased to the point where she needed help—and she recommended me! So now I get paid to answer plant-related questions about our part of the world. I guess I’m at least a know-something plant person.
My most interesting question to date involved huge white galls on the undersides of some grape leaves. A bit of research turned up the culprit—an aphid-like insect that normally live underground where they eat the roots, but crawls up the stem to pupate in leaf galls. Fascinating!
Sometimes I’m surprised by how little people know about plants. I’ve been asked to identify delphiniums (left), petunias, and even a pink rose! Or someone will buy a landscaped house and want to know what’s growing in their new yard. I can understand that—during my first summer in Colorado I carefully cultivated ragweed, thinking it was an unfamiliar flower. Then it bloomed.
While the app is supposed to be about cultivated plants, we seem to have a lot of hikers who want to put a label on every alpine wildflower, no matter how small. My field guides are getting a workout.
So, not just in the interest of job security, but also because it’s a great app that consistently gets 5-star ratings, please go check out Garden Compass. It’s free. Maybe soon I’ll be identifying your plants.