Public Lab Research note

Mapping Trees In Berlin

by chmooze | February 08, 2016 14:54 08 Feb 14:54 | #12668 | #12668

What I want to do

I'm playing with available resources for residents to identify, document, monitor and even manage the urban canopy. Cash strapped cities are increasingly relying on residents to help and I want to see what it takes for the average resident, who doesn't have any kind of arboreal background, to be helpful. Fortunately I'm the perfect test subject as I know virtually nothing.

My attempt and results

I started by downloading OpenTreeMap with the intent of seeing what I can put on the map within the 30 day trial period. First I created a map for my location (Berlin, Germany), then downloaded the mobile app. Pretty easy and straightforward.

I then looked through apps to help with tree identification. LeafSnap, which can id a tree based on a photo of a leaf was out as it's winter. Virginia Tech's was attractive because it was free and could download an inventory based on my location. But it told me no trees grow at my lat/long and altitude. Which is funny because the horse chestnuts must rain down every fall from somewhere.

I ended up shelling out $2.50 for "Baumportal" (Tree Portal) as it had a nice winter features function. Sadly it didn't seem all that helpful with my limited knowledge. In my short outing to the park down the street I wasn't able to identify any trees based on the buds and other winter feature pictures it carried, so I had to rely on my own limited knowledge.

Horse Chestnuts are pretty common though it was unclear to me whether we have the Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea) or Aesculus hippocastanum. Those were the options OpenTreeMap had and I guessed and added a few Aesculus hippocastanum to test the app. I got them on the map alright, and was able to use the GPS on my phone to geolocate them. Unfortunately the GPS on my Samsung Galaxy doesn't appear to be that reliable so, it probably makes more sense to do as the city does and simply reference trees by closest address.

The next tree I came upon I couldn't identify but it has a seed pod that probably will be a big help. Across the street were cherry blossom trees that had been blooming in the spring. My guess is that they are Prunus serrulata as the city is planting this variety, but OpenTreeMap wouldn't save the info.

Questions and next steps

Well, this got me out the door and playing a bit with available tools and knowledge. The big question is the best approach to expanding the types of trees I can successfully ID. I have some photos from today to look at, and will also look for any online resources specific to Berlin. It would be a big help to know what I should expect to find. Another possibility is to try to get an inventory from the city, OpenTreeMap contacted me and offered to upload such a file if I can get it.


There is probably someone living down the street from you who knows the names of all the trees in Berlin and would be flattered if asked to share their knowledge. Maybe a local birding group (birders also know trees) or environmental education center can help you find these knowledgeable people.

There are online groups who can help identify plants but you must submit good photos of the appropriate plant parts, so you need some knowledge to take the photos. That's why finding an actual person with knowledge is a great way to get started. is an excellent example of a way to crowd source plant identification (and also document the plant). It appears that there are about 20 people who have contributed a few dozen identifications in Berlin. Maybe one of them could help.


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Great to hear about your initiative!!! Check out NYC's initiative that used the TreeKIT method developed by @philipsilva and I to help thousands of New Yorkers map over half a million street trees (and counting!). Happy to answer any questions.

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Hi chmooze, To identify trees in Winter is kind of advanced; when you are in a City, even more; but I would like to motivate you to have a look on the trees anyway. This could help you next Winter!! :) I'm from Berlin/Potsdam, too, and of course there are some experts you could contact; but I would offer you the use of an OpenSource Project (outsourced of an old EU-Project) I like pretty much! People from the Naturkundemuseum Berlin are actually working together with lots of experts and user; step by step to offer an online and open identification key for all species you can find in Germany (later other countries like Italy etc.). I would say especially for trees the Key is quite good and can give you even more links to other literature. I think this would be the best way to help your self. If you still have some questions feel free to contact me. best Bjorn

here the link:

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For next winter -- and in case this helps anyone -- there are some good (dichotomous) keys for identifying trees in winter! They often use bark, twig, bud characteristics. The best time to learn winter identification is ... any other season! That way you can fall back on leaves, fruit, and flowers to confirm your winter methods.

Here's a good visual intro to winter identification.

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Hey @chmooze Any progress on your project? I found this link from the OpenStreetMap community that another German city, Bonn, has made a CC0 dataset available containing the location, type and age of urban trees. The coordinate system does need a little conversion, but that is described here by Josef Schugt.

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Hei Berliners, is this group here still active? we are having a meet-up tomorrow, saturday, to start some experiments on plant monitoring in Berlin. also using some of the tools from Public Lab and others...

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Hey @HaSTA What happened with that meetup? Any updates?

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