A question on marking plants as cultivated

Yesterday, I made an observation of Japanese Pachysandra that had spread by roots or runners (I don’t know which) from a neighbor’s yard well into a conservation area. Here’s the observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/106871562

I marked it cultivated because I thought it had not spread by seed. A very competent botanist came along and wondered if this should be marked as wild.

So, I went to look at iNat’s help topic on the matter: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#captive. To my mind, the example there that says that a “garden plant that is reproducing on its own and spreading outside of the intended gardening area” should be marked as wild applies here, but it depends on the definition of reproducing. Reproducing by seed? Sure, that’s wild. Reproducing by runners or roots? That’s a gray area in my mind, but I usually come down on the side of calling it cultivated.

What do you all think?


If it’s clearly connected physically to the planted one by runners it’s not wild (though you could say when connection is not there and plant is not cared for, it’s wild), there’s definitely some grey area to root spreading as in e.g. plums that can appear metres away from the mother tree, I think it won’t be a big problem if they’re marked as wild, so if you can make sure that at least above the ground plants are not connected, it’s more or less good case of a wild spreading plant and it will be much more useful if not marked as cultivated.


I agree it’s more useful if it’s not marked as cultivated.


I would go by the intent for the location. Was it intended to be present in the conservation area? Very likely not since this is a known invasive around here that spreads aggressively into areas where it was not intended to grow. So I would mark it wild as it has “jumped the fence” so to speak from garden to conservation area. Asexual reproduction still counts as reproduction in my mind.


Asexual reproduction still counts as reproduction in my mind, too, but I don’t know what iNat staff were thinking when they wrote the help topic.

I also don’t know the intent of the conservation area’s owners, but my strong suspicion is that they don’t want pachysandra growing on the property.


I think …

if a plant would survive on it’s own if it’s roots or runners were severed from the original plant, it would fill the definition of wild.

If it could not survive being severed from the original, then it would be cultivated.

I am not a botanist or even a specialist on iNat definitions, but that makes sense doesn’t it?


Let’s imagine that the plant continues to expand via vegetative means. When does the expansion become relevant? One meter, ten meters, one hundred meters, one thousand meters? The information that seems relevant to me is already noted in the observation. The species is considered introduced (not native to the location) and it appears to be expanding from a possible intentional planting into a natural area (that information provided in the notes). Summary: The introduced species is showing signs of escaping.


If the observation is of the runners, then mark it as wild since the plant arrived at that precise point on its own. The original source plant did not do that, so it should be marked as cultivated.


asexual reproduction such as fragmentation, budding, spore formation and vegetative propagation is still “reproduction”


This is a tricky and contentious issue, with no clear answers.

I always go by the idea that the term wild is a description of the organism’s state, not its origin.
But the boundary for how far removed it has to be is tricky.
Are escaped pets/cultivars wild?
How long/far do they have to be out of cultivation/captivity to be called “wild”?

Escaped pets are definitely wild on iNat, by rules it would be the moment they escape, but everyone goes with info they have, if you see a dog running away from the owner it’s probably not the best wild observation to make.)


I would personally probably mark it as wild. This is because, as already said, asexual reproduction is still reproduction, and because the plants would almost certainly survive if the original planting died, and would have got there by their own means.


I think there is no one-size-fits-all guideline. For species that primarily reproduce by seed, and where individuals are short-lived when only reproducing vegetatively, I would say, mark it not wild.

But pachysandra is different. It’s more like species like bamboo, that primarily reproduce vegetatively. Like, yes, in theory it can reproduce by seed, but in practice it does not do this very often at all, nor does it need to do so in order to persist long-term, colonize new areas, etc. There are many such plants, another is Aegopodium podagraria, which rarely produces by seed in North America, yet is a highly invasive plant, and able to invade natural areas, similarly to pachysandra.

I would mark this as wild for these reasons.

Also, setting technicalities aside, ask yourself the question of why we have the wild field to begin with.

From a science or conservation standpoint, if I were searching for records of this species, I would want to know whether or not it was persisting on its own (i.e. with no management or care) and/or spreading into wild areas. This one is doing both. Therefore, from a practical standpoint I would very much want it to be marked wild. Researchers and conservationists looking at records of this species are going to know its reproductive tendencies, so it’ll be clear that this probably originated from some planting way-back-when, because that’s how this species tends to get established. But it is relevant to them that it is growing in a wild area, not currently being actively cultivated on the site, etc.


This is a very thoughtful and helpful reply - thank you! You’ve convinced me to leave these situations as wild.


I had a native azalea growing at my old house. The new owner cut it down, because it had crooked branches and trunks. She then went to the native plant farm in Whately, and bought the same bush (as confirmed by my botanist wife), and planted it the same place. The new owner had no idea that she had killed a nice bush, only to plant the same thing.

It sounds like the first one would have been native, the second cultivated.

Vinca growing around a house would seem cultivated. However, this house in Warwick was abandoned in 1830. It’s about a 1/2 mile from any roads. The vinca is still going strong, and spreading. In a biological time scale, the vinca was planted recently. In human terms, it was several lifetimes ago.


It’s a good question, how long mathernal vinca plant lives?

Vinca is an evergreen plant, it stays green under the snow. The plants form a dense mat that spreads, killing all the native plants. The plants I kill every year with herbicide did quite well from 1966 to 2004, when I started killing them. Now they are hard to find.

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