Spotting new plant life is a positive sign of biodiversity, but sometimes it can be overwhelming just how many plant species we have here in New Zealand, and it’s near impossible to identify them all.
While for many generations people had to take risks when identifying plants, not knowing whether or not they were edible or even safe to touch, we now have the technology to help us. There are plenty of great online resources and apps to help you work out what that strange looking shrub in your garden is. It’s a good idea to use New Zealand-specific resources since we have so many endemic species. Here are a few popular resources:
Created by botany experts at the University of Otago, Flora Finder is an app that will identify your plant as well as providing a detailed description. All you have to do is upload a photo and it will analyse the shape of the leaf. The app will also ask you for a few key characteristics to help with the identification process. You can also browse through Flora Finder’s full plant collection.
Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has developed an app called NZ Trees to help identify native trees. While the concept is similar to Flora Finder, NZ Trees is more of an interactive learning tool, as it prompts you to select the tree’s characteristics such as leaf edges, leaf surface, leaf tip, leaf shape and leaf arrangement to determine the species.
If you have a little more time on your hands, the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network has a useful database of over 9,000 flora species. You can refine your search by factors like native or exotic, colour and conservation status. You can then download a PDF fact sheet about each species.
You might be lucky enough to spot something that no one has ever seen before. After all, our biodiversity is amongst the most unique in the world. If you see something strange and you can’t find an answer online, make sure to take a picture and record a few notes so you can pass it over to the above experts to investigate.