A few Captive/Cultivated edge cases

Edge Case #1
Someone needs to clear an area of soil, but there is a plant growing in that soil. This person digs up the plant and replants it a few feet away, outside of the cleared area. Is the plant now cultivated? In my eyes it’s similar to the example of a wild plant being put in a pot being cultivated, but there’s no pot involved.

Edge Case #2
A person is scattering bird seed in their yard with the intent that birds will eat it. Later on, some of these seeds have sprouted. Are the seeds wild or cultivated.

Edge Case #2.5
The same scenario as #2, but this time, the person is scattering the seed for the birds, but also hopes that some of the seeds end up germinating. If the plants would be considered wild in #2, would this be enough intent for them to be considered cultivated now?

Edge Case #3
Going back to the question of “When does a wild plant become cultivated?” If a person was to take a plant already present in the environment and then start maintaining it as if it were planted, would it be considered cultivated? Would there be any level of maintenance short of potting it where it would become cultivated, and where would you draw that line if so?


I would call cases 1-2.5 cultivated. Even in case 2, where the person didn’t necessarily intend the seed to grow, they did intend to place the organism (the seed) where it ends up growing. So the organism is present in that time and place based on human intention. A viable seed is just as much a valid observation of an organism as a grown plant - it’s just a different life stage of the same individual organism. A change in life stage doesn’t mean a change in cultivated/captive status.
Also, the Help documentation says “plants that grew from seeds that were planted in the ground or scattered” are captive, so this clearly applies to all these cases.

Question 3 truly is an edge case to me. I think you could “draw a line” at saying, if the plant wouldn’t have otherwise survived but for the human intervention, it would be cultivated (like a human built a greenhouse over an avocado tree that was a recruit or something). But I would err on the side of calling this “wild” as it falls under " living organisms dispersed by the wind, water, and other forces apart from humans". This would also be incredibly difficult to determine as an identifier - I wouldn’t vote someone else’s observation as captive because I thought this might be happening. If the original observer did mark it as cultivated because they felt they had intervened enough to consider it captive, I would probably defer to their judgment.


Is moving leaves and twigs aside to photograph a tiny plant, then forgetting to put these back in place, a form of “maintenance”? The plant will likely benefit from this intentional human intervention (less competition for sun, water, etc.)

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That can just as easily be a detriment to the plant too. Those sorts of things help to shade the ground and assist in moisture retention.


I regret that iNat choses to morph
Not Wild
Cultivated. Using the c-word confuses people.

Only for #1 would I need your comment for an obvious garden plant - wild plant moved - then I would call all of them Wild.

If the seed were deliberately planted to feed birds, that’s a crop, cultivated, Not Wild.


Any opinions on this one: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/135784595

It’s a Brown Recluse, clearly outside of its range, found while unpacking boxes from a different state. How do we normally handle obvious “hitchhikers” or “stoyaways” like this?

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A previous thread on hitchhikers:
though there are likely others too

In general, they would not be captive if it’s not an intentional movement of the organism by humans.

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I was wondering about this, too. There’s a pond near my friend’s house in England where a man keeps a collection of waterfowl, and while most are banded and pinioned, but there are native species present as well that breed and come and go, but which were originally placed there by the collector. Do the native species count as captive? Are the offspring considered captive if one of their parents was wild, but the other placed there by the collector?

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Those waterfowl are so confusing that I would mark them all wild and let somebody else worry about it.


Any organisms that are free to come and go as they please would be wild, whether introduced themselves or the offspring of introduced organisms. I’d think of these as roughly akin to ferals cats/dogs or escaped pets. If they are pinioned and unable to leave the area where they were introduced (like a pond), I’d consider them captive.


That’s been my approach so far! It’s pretty confusing. There seem to be a lot of “semi-wild” animal populations in the UK that are lightly maintained by collectors, gamekeepers, etc and toe the line of wild and captive.


I have a few of these edge cases in my yard. Birds pooped out the seeds and now I have a few saplings growing that I hope to keep alive and nurse into a hedge. This includes spicebush, alternate-leaved dogwood, and one or two American hollies. I also have a few white pine saplings courtesy of the mother tree across the street.

My approach has been to photograph these for ID confirmation the first time I become aware of them, but then treat them like cultivated garden plants if I do anything like pruning, mulching, or weeding around them. After all, I am taking care of them now, even though I did not plant them originally.

Similarly, I have a few plants that have popped up from seeds on their own. The first time I notice these volunteers, I treat them as wild, but if I do anything to encourage them (e.g. purposefully letting them go to seed while selectively weeding around them), I subsequently treat them like garden plants.

i thought domesticated animals that were allowed to come and go were still marked as not wild? Otherwise every cat laying on an unenclosed porch that could roam into a yard is ‘wild’. Yes, outdoor cats cause all kinds of ecological impacts, but if it’s being fed and living in a home, i don’t think it should be considered wild. If i knew 100% a native duck had been released i wouldn’t call that wild either, though i would if it had offspring.

The examples I gave to clarify my reasoning were:

I wouldn’t say that an outdoor cat corresponds to either of those. If it’s in a house some of the time, and likely receiving healthcare and shelter, then I think it’s reasonable to still consider it a pet and not feral. However, there will certainly be grey areas that only the owner of a specific individual might be qualified to make a determination for.

In the presented scenario however,

If they are leave the pond regularly and do as they will, that seems like a feral animal to me. Pretty similar to birds that are regulars at a backyard feeder and birdbath, which are certainly wild. There was no indication that the birds are going into the original releaser’s home or receiving veterinary care in which case it might make more sense to consider them pets.

That’s what i was responding to, which does describe an outdoor cat. But yes, grey areas for sure.

And sometimes, that can be tricky. A lone Muscovy duck with amputated wings swimming on a river in a rural, but not wild area, but no human structures are visible. Clearly captive in the sense that its wings were amputated to prevent it flying away, but how big is “the area where it was introduced”? Is its going down to the unfenced river, to swim who knows how far, “free to come and go as it pleases”?

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