Purdue’s Plant Doctor Helps Identify, Diagnose, & Report Pests

Purdue Plant Doctor
Don’t know the problem and are unsure of the plant? Use expandable images to guide you to the correct ID.


Now there’s a new tool to help diagnose landscape plant problems. The Purdue Plant Doctor website, co-created by Purdue University professors Cliff Sadof and Janna Beckerman, aids in diagnosing and managing thousands of plant health problems (insect, disease, and other biotic or abiotic conditions) on over 250 species of the most common Midwest land Northeast U.S. landscape plants. The website has thousands of accurately identified and curated, high-resolution color photos, and current recommendations to help educate yourself or your clients regarding important plant health management decisions. The website was also designed to have all its critical information and photos in a mobile friendly format—so it can be freely accessed, downloaded, and shared via text, email, or even on social media platforms. All of this can be done in a matter of minutes with a few short clicks.

Plant ID & Making A Diagnosis

Purdue Plant Doctor
Know the problem? Just typing the first few letters on the welcome page will guide you to the correct ID.

The welcome page offers you the choice to enter what you think may be the problem, allowing you to by-pass the menu-based diagnosis process. If the plant name is entered into the text box, the site will provide a list of the most common problems affecting that host. Scrolling through the list takes you directly to the topic of interest.

You can click directly on the type of host plant (broadleaf tree, shrub, vine; evergreen tree and shrub; flowers) if it is known. Doing so will enable you to be guided through a visual menu of plant hosts, with a diagnostic thumbnail to assist in correctly IDing the plant of interest. Each thumbnail can be clicked to obtain a higher resolution image to aid in identifying the plant correctly.

Selecting the host prompts you to identify the area of concern (e.g., leaves, flowers, branches, etc.). Choosing a location where the problem is observed opens up a menu of additional thumbnails you can examine to locate a similar looking problem. The site then pulls from the library a selection of photos revealing signs and symptoms commonly seen on the selected tree, flower, etc. and orders the potential problems from most common to least common. From here, you just click the image that best matches the pest problem of interest.

Comparing Look-A-Likes

Many plant problems have a superficial resemblance to each other.  For this reason, many of the plant problem entries provide a list of “Look-A-Likes” that can be compared to help confirm the diagnosis. Clicking on the Look-A-Like button allows you to compare images and key features of similar pests. For example, iron chlorosis is often confused for manganese deficiency.

Finding Info On A Particular Problem

If you already know the cause of the plant problem, you can simply type the name of the problem in the welcome screen. By default, the website then gives information about problems on trees and shrubs.  If you want management information for a known flower problem, you need to select appropriately. For example, Japanese beetles occur on trees and shrubs—as well as flowers. The default Japanese beetle entry will tell a user how to manage this problem on trees and shrubs. The Japanese beetle entry that specifies (Flowers- annuals and perennials) will give suggestions for managing this pest in a flower bed.

Getting & Sharing Info

Of course, not all insects are pests. By choosing the “Beneficials” icon on the welcome screen, you can identify the kind of beneficial insects that may be present from a gallery. Other pests you are likely to encounter may be newly introduced invasives that are not yet widely distributed. Examples include the spotted lanternfly, Asian longhorned beetle, and boxwood blight. In these cases, the Plant Doctor Website can help report the invasive pests to State authorities. By Clicking on the “Report This Pest” button, users can upload a photo of an invasive and submit it directly to the authorities.

For a recent Turf article by Dr. Sadof, see “Scaling Back Tree Scale.”


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