Absolutely tired of plants not marked as cultivated - Solutions welcome

Interestingly, in my enviro-ed days, I made an observation about what kids see. Little kids, early elementary: we would begin our walk in the woods, and within just a few feet, one of them will have picked up a fallen live-oak leaf with a tiny apple-gall on it, and asked what it is. Bigger kids, middle school: we get through our entire walk, and none have noticed the fallen leaves or the galls. I am not sure that observation is learned so much as too-often unlearned.


I’d say multiple things go in play here, young kids are still in exploration phase and they easier notice something on the lower level just because they’re lower, teens are in phase “we’re adults, not care about anything and just want to go home”, even when they seem engaged.


Hey excuse me! I’m in the middle school age he describes, and I have trouble going on walks with my mom now because I keep stopping to photograph plants! Insulting! (Just kidding, I’m not really insulted. But not all teenagers are like that!)


Medium teen is like that, nothing personal, everyone expriences at least part of it and everyone at some point thinks he’s already an adult when it’s not true, it’s normal.)


I think it’s likely that experienced ID-ers are scaring away non-experienced users with sometimes gruff insistence on marking things as cultivated. I wish more seasoned iNat users would keep in mind that people adding plant IDs want to know about that plant! That’s where their curiosity lies. If we immediately demote their observation, and then it subsequently never gets identified (because there is such a bias against identifying cultivated things), then of course we have discouraged that user. That’s my experience from sunny Los Angeles, where most of the plants (native or not) you see here are irrigated ones!


Is it still considered cultivated if its an invasive species thats growing but wasnt planted by a person and it just grew on its own?

I agree marking things as cultivated where obvious is really helpful. This is certainly an issue.

I’ve always been interested in this issue, because I like urban plants, both planted and “wild”. I think that Nathan Taylor and others make some good points that the system may discourage new users by treating cultivated observations as second class. I’d like the more experienced users to consider what it’s like to be a new users from an urban area (where most humans now live). When we interact with new users from this population we have to understand that 90% of the plants they see around them would be considered cultivated. This doesn’t really apply to any other group of organisms they see–most urban insects aren’t captive, most urban birds aren’t captive, urban mushrooms aren’t captive, urban squirrels aren’t captive (whether native or not) and so on. We should not blame the new users for this issue. There’s inherently a challenge in explaining why a decades old tree they see in an urban park, which has withstood the local climate and pests for years, and which is intimately connected with the other living things in that park should be treated different than a Rock Pigeon or House Sparrow or gull. Well the difference is that tree was planted fifty years ago by a park employee. But how are they supposed to know that? We know it’s a commonly planted non-native species (or not a native species) but how would they know that! That’s the whole point! And once we mark it as cultivated it likely will not generate ID’s from more experienced identifiers. Consider another scenario, two new users go to the park nearest their apartment, one takes a photo of the hummingbird, the other takes a photo of the flower the hummingbird drinks from. One is considered “part of nature”, the other is “captive”. It’s a bit of an abstract distinction, isn’t it? I’m not saying it can’t be made, but no wonder it’s confusing! Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t mark cultivated plants as cultivated–we absolutely should where appropriate, it provides critical ecological context. But I don’t think we should be surprised that this is an issue–and we have to meet new users where they are at, not at some level of understanding we wish they had.


Clownish, ouch! Where does this assumption come from that people only do research on non-cultivated plants? If you are studying any phytophagous insects you need to know about their host plant. If you are studying mycorrhizal fungi you need to know about the plants they colonize. Observations of cultivated plants have been incredibly important in our understanding of phenology and how climate change is affecting phenology (see Japan’s cherry trees, American lilacs etc.). The problem here as many have said is “research grade”. It’s just not a great way to classify observations. Not all research grade observations are good for research, not all casual observations are worthless. As others have said, the researcher (and peer reviewers) bear some (not all of course) of the responsibility for filtering and interpreting the data. This is not an unsolvable or hopeless problem–it may be hard to find a solution that everyone loves, but the iNat system can and should change as issues like this crop up.


hi @TheWoah this issue is covered by the iNat help page (posted in thread see quote).

To answer your question, no it’s not considered cultivated.


Oh ok ty I was just wondering since In my neighbour hood we have alot of I think its either agave or aloe that has grown from bits that were planted there and now they are growing on their own

I’m not convinced the current implementation is not the one a majority of users would prefer. There is a fundamental conflict between what established users would like on the site (which in my reading of this over years of being a user is to minimize the amount of cultivated stuff, and not have it ‘cluttering’ up the site and identify pages etc) versus getting new users onboard.


Honestly I don’t see this as much as a problem as simply a missed opportunity. Cultivated plants exist, and they have huge (and will continue to have) immense impacts on global ecology. The site has all of the technological tools to generate useful data about these plants but then stops short of encouraging users to help it do so.

As is, there are probably millions (if not now there will be in the future no doubt) of observations with crisp photos, accurate geolocation and date being hosted on servers (and being paid for) but for which the system is discouraging users to identify and engage with. Why wouldn’t iNat want accurate information on the taxonomic identity of those plants to go along with the photos and other data? The answer might be that “we don’t want to encourage more of them”. If that’s really the overriding concern there are probably more direct ways to deal with it. But I don’t think we need to. I don’t see why “cluttering” should be a concern. Having cultivated plants on this site shouldn’t detract from your experience, you can filter them out, or just skip them. Besides if there were an incentives to actually identify observations of cultivated plants, perhaps more people actually would (we’d probably attract more identifiers too!), in that way you wouldn’t have to look at so many of those pesky Pelargoniums with “needs ID”. Educating the public about what’s native, what’s endangered, what’s invasive, how plants impact insects and wildlife, those would all be priorities for me over teaching them first and foremost about the cultivated vs. not cultivated distinction.

Maybe you think that cultivated plants should be the mission of another app or project–which is valid but then one of the things that people love about the site is the opportunity to see plants, fungi, birds, insects, etc. all in one place. But like I said, I love the site as it is, I just don’t see why it limits itself in this way.


I don’t think the majority of users have an issue with some stuff. The issue is the balance and ratio of observations between the pine planted in a park and the cactus in a pot in the windowsill is problematic.

I honestly feel your pain.

The “clownish” nature of the data isn’t referring to the idea that researchers only study cultivated or wild things (the data of cultivated species can be used too, though it’s not as useful for as many studies) but to the fact that these two must be treated separately in order to be useful for researchers who use this data. If it’s a jumbled mix of the two without any way of distinguishing them, it’s either useless or requires so much data cleaning as to make it not worth using. This is why this topic is such an important one.


your pesky Pelargoniums are our indigenous ;~)
but your agaves and cordylines, and little potted succulents - Fred Ives?
I will ID my way, as best I can, thru wild and planted (in Cape Town), and it is a huge advantage that iNat is international.


Yes, it is looking so with no consistence, and we lack specialists because of that, it doesn’t affect new users who post 3 lillies from their garden, but it affect old users who need more special kind of info or just somethig more than agreement on a regular species. Cultivated should be marked, there’re many reasons for that and it doesn’t prevent studying it.

1 Like

I appreciate that @nathantaylor thanks for the clarification. I said it above, and I absolutely understand the need to mark things as cultivated. I’ve marked thousands (ok maybe just hundreds) of observations of plants as cultivated in Los Angeles. I just think it’s a little harsh to say the data is “clownish”. That reflects a bias towards biographic research (in my humble opinion) and doesn’t reflect the considerable onus on researchers using the data to vet and interpret the data they use in their analyses. Any researcher actually using other peoples data needs to be extremely careful with how they interpret these data–especially community science data. At least iNat has an open process for identification that can correct errors–a process which many traditional herbaria don’t have, or haven’t had until very recently. What seems to really be at issue here is that most folks commenting have a strong aesthetic preference for puzzling over the identities of wild native plants of local significance. And they would prefer to spend their time on interesting identifications rather than mindlessly clicking on “captive/cultivated”. I totally understand! My contention is that this may be a content moderation/user experience issue more than a data quality issue per se. I don’t see how it’s different from my experience trying to identify thousands of shaky cell phone photos of distant, nearly unidentifiable birds. Nevertheless those are eligible for research grade, but an absolute perfect photo of a rare plant in restoration site, with wonderful attention to anatomical detail isn’t (?). If we change our perspective ever so slightly, we could look at this as an opportunity to learn about and teach about cultivated plants–if we all did so, we would lessen the burden on other identifiers and spread botanical knowledge. I’m hoping that folks can accept that these cultivated records aren’t necessarily worthless (unless you are only interested in biogeography, and even then they could have value for the biogeography of other groups of organisms, or for understanding how non-native species get introduced!). Maybe we can actually leverage them to improve everyones experience. That’s my hope. With utmost and complete respect and admiration to everyone here. Who I sincerely agree with on almost everything. Also I’d like some help identifying cultivated plants on the UCLA campus: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ucla-campus-biodiversity?tab=observations. ;-)


I think that’s an overstatement. If you are interested in how the plant functions as a host plant, or interested in how much of it there simply is around, then it might not actually matter. Consider the case of Tropical Milkweed. It would be nice to know more about how much there is so we could study whether it’s playing a role in Monarch butterfly populations. Also other planted milkweeds. https://xerces.org/blog/tropical-milkweed-a-no-grow

Look, the distinction here for plants is partly, but not completely scientific. Birders (at least in North America) also have all kinds of rules about what counts as “countable” for species checklists. The first several generations of escaped pet birds are not “countable”, even though these intermediate generations (second, third, fourth etc.) would all be considered “research grade” on iNaturalist. For birders, they only become countable if they reproduce and expand without direct human assistance for several generations (even though many actually depend on non-native cultivated trees–which depend on irrigation… yada yada).

A similar rule could be applied to plants. That rule would be more restrictive than our current definition of research grade. Finding a single individual or volunteer in a garden would not count as research grade–arguably it shouldn’t for people interested in self sustaining populations. It’s always a little bit arbitrary. Or as another example, in arid regions a distinction between, irrigated/not-irrigated, could be equally important to the cultivated not cultivated distinction we insist on. I’m just saying these are all important and valid, but no one of them is universally more important. I apologize if I’m becoming unbearably annoying.


I don’t really disagree with you and “clownish” probably is a bit harsh, but I think it stresses the importance of this problem and how much the quality of the data hinges on identifiers doing the frustrating work of marking cultivated plants as cultivated. I’m hoping the developers find a way to address this. I consider this issue and the problem of school groups the most challenging issues to good data quality facing iNaturalist.

I have literally marked thousands too (just over 1,000 in CA alone). ;-) Looks like you can safely say thousands.

While I appreciate the sentiment, it’s a lot to ask of folks who specialize primarily on the native flora in an area and particularly of those who just use iNaturalist as a way to unwind. You might not think it’s too bad, but for someone like me who doesn’t know the cultivated plants and isn’t interested in them, it’s a major hassle. I also don’t think it’s fair to put a greater burden on identifiers who are volunteering their time and expertise. This is especially true if there are ways of improving the process so identifiers don’t have to take on this extra burden. Also think of it this way, every minute spent dealing with cultivated plants is a minute that could be spent in that experts area of expertise spreading detailed knowledge to the community.

Cultivated observations aren’t worthless, but they are a different type of data that are generally less informative about the things the iNaturalist community is interested. Keep in mind that iNaturalist is primarily for getting people to experience the natural world and not their own gardens. As for exceptional photos of rare plants that should be labeled cultivated, iNaturalist doesn’t do the best job of capturing that but you could include those as photos on the taxon page or link embed them in a journal post for identification. Cultivated observations are findable, just not the focus.

I think the key here is might. It’s true that some studies can use the data without this distinction, but for most studies comparing more than a single species, it matters a lot. Also, the data by it’s very nature is biogeographic, even in your example. Some host data can be mined but iNaturalist isn’t really set up for this despite numerous discussions in the past for some standardized implementation of this kind of info. Biogeographic data is the primary dataset that iNaturalist curates. Also, even in your example, having the clarity of wild/cultivated in the data would be valuable depending on what specific questions you want to answer.

This is true, and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to a rule like this. The trouble is that it’s essentially impossible to confirm given the information supplied on iNaturalist. As such, I think the single generation will have to do. There has been a lot of discussion in the past about this topic and I think it would be better in a separate topic.