"Are these captive/cultivated?"

I opened iNaturalist today to look at my cacti from my trip to Israel. I noticed that someone has been going through and marking them as casual (apparently they are “cultivated”). I’m pretty sure they’re wild as no special soils were involved, they appeared as though they had not been tended to in a long time (if at all), and were not showy in very many ways (if any). They were also planted at weird spots on the (weed-choked, wild, unkept) lawn. They seemed to be growing through other (planted) vegetation in one case, enhancing the “uncultivated weed cactus” look.

Are these enough features to tell whether they are wild or not? This is the ink to the observations, by the way. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&taxon_id=47903&user_id=silaseckhardt&verifiable=any


I am one of those who flagged those observations as not wild.
It is pretty clear that these plants are not wild or, alternatively, it is unlikely that they are wild. Wild populations of alien cacti look different and occur in different habitats, not in courtyards, along city roads, in orchards and in urban green spaces.


They’re planted imo.

I cannot comment on or judge the specific case(s) presented by the OP in this thread as I have not been in the area myself (if forced to though, most look planted to me), but this is definitely not a statement that can be blanket applied in all contexts. I have observed a number of cacti in Australia, mostly Opuntia, that have become naturalised and are growing as weeds in contexts exactly like those you describe, e.g., along railways lines, at the side of highways or on the peripheries of local parks.

eg, this Opuntia growing along a railway corridor near my house, on the inside of the fence where nothing is planted along the tracks.


I looked at all these cactus observations and I would judge them all to be cultivated.

In general, my approach to using this flag for plants is as follows:

  1. If you know with confidence that the plant is cultivated (e.g. you grew it, it’s growing prominently in a garden/park bed, etc.) mark it as cultivated.
  2. If you can be reasonably sure that the plant is wild (native to the area or known to be naturalized in the area and not in a location that indicates cultivation) then leave “cultivated” unchecked. Opuntia ficus-indica is certainly known to be naturalized in many mediterranean habitats.
  3. For the rest (i.e. you don’t know with confidence) mark the plant as cultivated if it is anywhere near buildings, gardens, parks or human habitation.
  4. If you’re out on a trail and find a non-native plant that doesn’t appear to have been intentionally grown there, treat it as wild and leave “cultivated” unchecked.

This approach may occasionally miss a species that is starting to naturalize in an area but has not previously been recorded, but it also makes it a lot easier to see the actual extent of truly naturalized non-native species.


Those are all absolutely cultivated. It’s possible that some, especially the prickly-pears self seeded, but even if they did they’re clearly being actively managed and cultivated.

As an aside, cacti are native to the Americas only, with the exception of Rhipsalis baccifera (Mistletoe Cactus) which originated in the Americas but spread on its own a few thousand years ago (likely via birds) to Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and possibly parts of tropical India.

Prickly Pear (aka Pear Cactus), Opuntia, is now wild in many parts of the world as a very problematic invasive plant.

There are a lot of other plants, especially types of Euphorbiaceae, that look very similar to cactus and occupy pretty much the same ecological niche, which often confuses people, but if you see cactus growing anywhere outside of the Americas (with the exception of Rhipsalis baccifera) it’s either cultivated or invasive, and the invasive species are pretty limited in number.


Remember - iNat unfortunately chooses to translate ‘Not Wild’ to Cultivated - which adds an unnecessary layer of confusion.

The plant is not cultivated in the sense of a gardener caring for it. It is simply not a wild plant in its natural habitat.

Not simple at all, and the question comes up again and again.

If iNat would stick to English not iNat jargon and use Not Wild - we would all know where we stand.

Keep Casual as a new separate category for Data Deficient. Missing date or location or picture.


In South Africa we do have Opuntia as well, not in their natural habitat , but not planted either. We do have many (too many) invasive species that plant themselves even if they are not in their natural habitat. To tag those as [casual] would be wrong.


iNat also lacks the in between.
It is not wild and natural, it is not planted and cultivated.

It is invasive or naturalised or garden escapee or guerilla gardening or rewilding.
Makes the distribution maps not so useful.

If it is your own obs - front garden, trimmed hedge - it is important to spell out in a note for identifiers - volunteer, not planted. The next gardener, or passing dogwalker, cannot know that - so we make a judgement call on the info in the obs.


The captive/cultivated mark has always been problematic. The site asks us to make a guess, so all our human biases and assumptions must be relied upon. We might be good guessers and assumers, but this is not a scientific process. Ironically, it is to protect the data for science that we are asked to use non-evidence based subjective judgment to guess the history of an organism that we can only infer, not know.


This is a good point - how do we know that things are cultivated? Sometimes parks are built around existing things (especially cacti). Also, things can sometimes appear cultivated but they can be wild. Third and final: If a plant has self seeded, but is being tended to, I think it should be “not Casual”.

I hope I’ve made a convincing argument.


There’s some interesting threads on the forum about captive/cultivated. It’s a controversial area because on the one hand, the data on iNat is intended to have scientific value, so adding garden plants, livestock, and zoo animals is clearly not helping scientists understand the natural processes, and would mess up the range maps that show where species are naturally occurring. And on the other hand, there are a lot of gray areas and often uncertainty about how an organism came to be at a particular place and time.

All we know with any certainty in encountering an organism is that it is there. We don’t know how it got there. And there’s no getting around that. Would it be terrible if iNat contained data on what plants existed in any particular place, regardless of any guesses about their origin? It would then be a subject of scientific study as to why those plants are there. Then if it can be proven to be wild or cultivated, let it be published in a journal somewhere. But the data is the data, and that should be that organism identified to be an X was found in place Y, at time T.


What, in your opinion is the solution to this problem? We can’t know, but still there are many observations that are marked as casual. Should people remove the thumbs down arrow on posts for things like this?

People will each make a judgement call, as you have seen on your cacti.


Some possible partial solutions have been discussed over time. One idea was to separate the captive/cultivated bucket from the data quality bucket. Another idea was to create an equivalent of Research Grade for captive/cultivated, and make Needs ID independent of whether an observation is captive/cultivated or wild. Another idea was to relabel “Casual” to “Not Wild”. Another idea is to make it as easy for identifiers to search on casual/cultivated as it is on wild. That would mean at least making it a persistent/sticky setting, so identifiers who are willing to review captive/cultivated observations don’t have to set it every time they sit down for an identification session - or better yet, let identifiers save their settings in a profile or on a per-query basis, so you could have multiple queries for your most common identification specializations. You could then for example have “local-wild”, “local-captive/cultivated”, “favorite genus-ALL”, etc. and have the settings persistent for your common queries. Those are all helpful suggestions.

Some ideas that I haven’t seen discussed: what about a “don’t know” option for captive/cultivated. If you know, set it. If you know it’s wild, set it. Otherwise, it’s “don’t know.” Then GBIF or whoever can pull data marked as known wild, and leave the rest.

it definitely was brought before.)


I do wish that there was a way to mark “relics of cultivation” or “survivors”. It’s always seemed strange to me to put “well-pampered houseplant” and “tree that’s been deliberately planted but untouched for decades” in one category and I think that’d help a fair bit - it’s hard to view a tree that’s been there under it’s own weight for ~100 years as “cultivated”, even if it technically is!

I’d say a couple of those cacti look like they could be self-seeds but I wouldn’t be confident enough to tag them as that.

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At the root of every thread on variations of this topic, there is, I believe, a wish to have ones own observations “count.” Because no matter what iNat’s “official” stance may be, casual observations just don’t feel like they matter.


There is a long thread running

It comes up again. And again.

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Just a quick note that casual/cultivated observations still are available to scientists - they can be and are downloaded from iNat itself and sometimes used for research. They just aren’t exported to GBIF which has expressed the view that they don’t want to import a lot of cultivated/captive organisms. So how cultivated plants (and other captive/non-wild organisms) are treated as data is an issue that extends beyond iNat itself.