Al Miller

Flora of our Garden in Portland

While I am smitten by the idea of naturalism, and have always wanted to develop an intuition for identification, I simply have never devoted the practice required to become adept at it. Spending time around plants and appreciating them does not by osmosis inform you of their families, names, and whatnot, so for someone who has spent substantial time in nature, I can name pitifully few flora that I see and appreciate.

I can't argue against the saying that “to name a thing is to know it”. While naming things is primarily useful for developing our collaborative understanding of our world, there is also value naming things for our personal understanding. A thoughtful taxonomy for any subject, such as exists with millennia of prior art for flora and fauna, allows us to better understand the principles and characteristics from which the general classes and patterns may be derived. I'd always therefore prefer the abstract knowledge of the plant kingdom's families over being able to identify individual specimens, though these abilities are very interrelated.

And so today I walked through our yard (I hesitate to call it a garden, which implies more thoughtful curation, though it's getting there) to identify what's there. I took the following photographs with PlantNet, as recommended by the New York Times, and thought it did an excellent job identifying species, drawing from a staggeringly large database of over 5 million crowd-sourced images. And though I can't personally vouch for the accuracy, there were a few test cases (including the Dawn Redwood and Cherry trees) that I had pre-knowledge of from arborists, and the app summarily identified them. Finally, although this writeup amounts to little more than someone walking around their yard with a phone, if nothing else I became more educated on the subject of why our garden has so many weeds (Purple deadnettle is a notoriously prolific, though also medicinal weed).