Posts Tagged ‘Leafsnap’

American sweetgum tree (fruit and fall foliage)

November 25, 2011


American sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are among the last deciduous trees in the mid-Atlantic region to change color and drop their leaves. Seems like Mother Nature saved the best for last — Sweetgum trees go out in a blaze of glory! Leaves change color from green to yellow to red to a rich reddish-purple.

Photos 1-2 show Sweetgum tree “fruit”; Photo 2 shows the relative size of the fruit specimens. [Editor’s Note: The quarters used to show the relative size of the fruit specimens are approximately one inch (~1″) in diameter. See a schematic diagram of Sweetgum flowers and fruit.] Photos 1 and 3-6 show Sweetgum tree fall foliage. Photos 5-6 show a Sweetgum tree leaf, identified in situ using Leafsnap app (free) for Apple iOS mobile devices.

Tech Tips: The preceding photos were post-processed using Apple “Aperture,” a professional-grade tool for organizing and adjusting photos.

Panicled Goldenrain Tree flowers and "fruit"

October 8, 2011

During a couple of photowalks in early June, I spotted a “golden rain” shower as tiny yellow flowers fell to the ground from a Panicled Goldenrain Tree (Photo 1-2 of 2, shown below).


A few weeks later, “fruit” (seed pods) appeared in place of the flowers (Photos 1-2 of 2, shown below). The green seed pods remind me of Japanese lanterns.


Panicled Goldenrain Trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) flower during early June in the mid-Atlantic region, and bear fruit in late June. By early fall, the seed pods turn brown and burst, releasing their seeds (as shown in the following gallery).


Leafsnap app (free) is “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” The following gallery shows the Leafsnap entry for Panicled Goldenrain Tree, depicting its life cycle from leaves to flowers to fruit (see Apple iPad 1 screen captures, shown below).


Tech Tips: The preceding gallery features screen captures from “Leafsnap” app (for iPhone), displayed in 2x mode on an Apple iPad 1. “Leafsnap for iPad” (a.k.a., “LeafsnapHD”) is available also. The following gallery features select screen captures from “Leafsnap for iPad.”


Project Noah versus Leafsnap

June 4, 2011

Project Noah and Leafsnap: Two free apps that utilize iPhone’s built-in camera for exploring the natural world; two different solutions for field identification of fauna and flora. One app works amazingly well; the other app works, but not as well. A list of pluses and minuses for both apps follows, along with a summary of the results of my field testing and a recommendation for educators.


Project Noah

(+) Visually appealing user interface (UI) – In a word, yes. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – My Noah/New Spotting/”Take new photo” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Images 3 and 4 of 12]
(-) Built-in field guide – The Project Noah Field Guide is not a field guide in the traditional sense of the word, rather it is more like a crowdsourced field guide. Photos and related narrative text are submitted by Project Noah “citizen scientists”: Nomenclature and content quality varies widely throughout the field guide; some groups of animals and plants are either underrepresented or not represented. [Image 5 of 12]
(-) Feedback – “Help me ID this species.” I tapped “YES”; no feedback (since 23 May 2011). [Image 6 of 12] [Editor’s Note: Images 7, 8, and 9 of 12]
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 10 and 11 of 12]
(+/-) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – “My Missions.” Your field observations may never be used by real scientists unless you opt to participate in one or more missions. [Image 2 of 13]
(+) Performance incentives – “My Patches,” like virtual scouting merit badges [Image 12 of 12]
(-/+) Built-in documentation and Web support – No built-in help; better Web pages than Leafsnap.
(-) Universal app/iPad version – Not available



(+/-) Visually appealing user interface – Yes. Leafsnap UI somewhat less appealing than Project Noah. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – “Snap It!” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Image 3 of 12]
(+) Built-in field guide – Database currently features 2,620 high-resolution images of 185 tree and plant species. [Image 4 of 12]
(+) Feedback – Immediate and very reliable. Leafsnap correctly identified 8/9 trees that I tested; the second result was the correct ID for the 9th tree (a fact verified easily by comparison with field guide database). [Image 5 of 12]
(+) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – By design, all field observations are used to build scientific database.
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 6 and 7 of 12]
(+) Performance incentives – “Geodialist’s Collection” (“Geodialist” is my Leafsnap username) [Image 8 of 12]
(+/-) Built-in documentation and Web support – Tap “i” on any page for more information; poor Web support. [Images 9, 10, and 11 of 12]
(+) Universal app/iPad version – iPad version available (“Snap It!” doesn’t work with iPad 1.) [Image 12 of 12]


Overall, Project Noah has twice as many minuses as Leafsnap, and there are more pluses than minuses for Leafsnap. Most importantly, Leafsnap provides timely, reliable feedback while Project Noah fails to deliver this key success factor consistently.

As a former science teacher, I am conflicted by the thought of using Project Noah with students. I’m a big advocate of hands-on learning (a.k.a., learning by doing) and technology-enriched instruction. But I prefer “guided discovery” over random experimentation, that is, carefully crafted hands-on activities designed to lead students to scientifically accurate conclusions. At best — that is, with guidance from a good teacher — working with Project Noah could be a great experience for students; at worst, it could be an exercise in frustration (see Editor’s Note, shown below). Bottom line: Leafsnap is the only app I recommend for use with students. In my opinion, Project Noah is more appropriate for adults than children.

See the related blog post, Field test: Leafsnap app.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of fairly evaluating Project Noah, I re-tested the app by adding a “New Spotting” to “My Noah.” I tapped “YES” in response to the prompt, “Help me ID this species.” This time, I received two “Comments” later the same day, as indicated by the red badge on the “My Noah” page. I tapped “My Spottings”: On the “My Spottings” page, I tapped the right arrow on the first “Needs ID” spotting (that displays an icon indicating two comments); on the “Comments” page, two Project Noah participants correctly identified the plant as a Hydrangea macrophylla (Lacecap). Sounds good — that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? A couple of questions arise: 1) What are the qualifications of the commenters? (With no disrespect intended, aren’t you naturally a little skeptical of someone who goes by the moniker, “Monkey-mind?”) There is no way to either access a commenter’s bio, or communicate directly with a commenter via Project Noah unless the commenter enabled these options in their settings. 2) What if the commenters had misidentified the plant? Not so good, and arguably worse than no feedback. (Remember the teachers’ old saw that says students must work harder/longer to unlearn misconceptions and misinformation? It’s true!) Project Noah’s highest priority should be to devise a procedure that provides timely, reliable feedback EVERY TIME a participant requests help; until this objective is achieved, I remain very reluctant to recommend its use by educators.

Field test: Leafsnap app

May 16, 2011


Leafsnap app (free) is “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” See the video, “Introducing Leafsnap” for more information. Leafsnap is available in the Apple iTunes App Store.

I field tested Leafsnap recently. I selected several trees located on the grounds of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. One the trees in the test group is an old Black Locust tree. The gallery (shown above) features a photograph of a Black Locust tree leaf taken using Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature (No. 1), a series of screen captures from Leafsnap (No. 2 – 4), and a couple of photos of the tree taken using iPhone’s built-in Camera app (No. 5 – 6). The screen captures illustrate the process used by Leafsnap to identify the Black Locust tree based upon the outline of one of its leaves. Notice the Five-lined Skink lizard in photo No. 6.

When Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature is able to connect to remote servers via either 3G or Wi-Fi, the automatic identification process works very well; when Leafsnap is unable to establish a connection, you’re dead in the water and going nowhere. Hopefully the problem establishing a server connection has been resolved in the latest version of Leafsnap. Overall, Leafsnap is a “must-have” app for educators, gardeners, and natural science enthusiasts.

Tech Tips: For trees with compound leaves (such as Black Locust), be careful to shoot the entire leaf. Leaves should be photographed in situ for accurate geolocation. Photos saved to the Camera Roll from Leafsnap’s built-in camera (“Snap It!”) are not geotagged. For this reason, you may want to take one or more photos using iPhone’s Camera app. (See the location of the Black Walnut tree, derived from the EXIF/IPTC info for photo No. 5.)

Leapin’ Lizards!

May 12, 2011


I shot a photo of Black Locust tree bark while field testing Leafsnap app, “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” More about Leafsnap in a follow-up post (after it returns to the Apple iTunes App Store). A Five-lined Skink lizard happened to appear in the photo (No. 1 and 2), although I must admit I didn’t see the lizard until after I’d taken the picture — it scurried away quickly before I was able to shoot more photos.

The next day I went on a photo safari to the same tree hoping to shoot some pictures of Skinks. I observed the tree trunk carefully for a couple of hours and my patience was rewarded (No. 3 to 8). I missed opportunities to photograph two other Skinks — they move quickly! I think Skinks like locust trees.

The preceding gallery features four pairs of photographs: a cropped version of each photo; followed by the full-size original.

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