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In this brief, we propose a novel contour-based shape descriptor, called the multiscale distance matrix, to capture the shape geometry while being invariant to translation, rotation, scaling, and bilateral symmetry. The descriptor is further combined with a dimensionality reduction to improve its discriminative power. The proposed method avoids the time-consuming pointwise matching encountered in most of the previously used shape recognition algorithms. It is therefore fast and suitable for real-time applications. We applied the proposed method to the task of plan leaf recognition with experiments on two data sets, the Swedish Leaf data set and the ICL Leaf data set. The experimental results clearly demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of the proposed descriptor.