Published on June 11, 2019

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photography by aaron bengochea

We know by now that time spent in the great outdoors—even just five minutes—can do great things for your mental health. But when you live in a city where the number of people far exceeds the number of trees, it can be tough to get your nature fix. Luckily, your phone can help.

Yes, it might sound counterintuitive—unplugging is often said to be a crucial step in actually enjoying nature—but a few resources are making it possible to maximize the benefits of the outside world, even if you don’t have the time to go forest bathing.

One such app, which Melissa Dahl recently praised on The Cut, is iNaturalist. It’s basically Shazam for your local flora and fauna. iNaturalist, as reported by Dahl, has picked up in popularity since author Jenny Odell mentioned it in her new book, How to Do Nothing. The way it works is simple: Take a picture of an insect or plant that you see, and the app will instantly identify it for you. The more you use it, the better you’ll get at identifying the natural world around you without the help of technology. You might even come to appreciate that green shrub in front of your home or the tree you pass every day on your walk to the coffee shop.

This isn’t the only way your phone can reconnect you with nature. Follow the hashtag #FlowerReport on Twitter, started by writer Alyssa Harad, and you can comb through hundreds of photos of blooms that users share on a regular basis. If you really want to take your identification skills to the next level, there’s also BirdNET, a birdcall-identifying app. And if you’re still not positive what kind of tree you’re seeing every day, Leafsnap can help you out with just a simple photo of a leaf.

The next time you walk through the park—or even just down your street—don’t be so quick to tuck your phone away. It might just give you a greater appreciation for nature. Now who’s up for a hike?

See more reasons to enjoy nature:
Bonsai Trees Are Trending—Here’s Your Guide
Growing Up Around Nature Can Lead to Better Mental Health Later, Study Says
2019’s Biggest Wellness Trends Will Have a Lot to Do With Nature

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