Are trees/bushes in ancient hedgerow "cultivated"?

Newbe question. Be gentle with me! Can’t find anything about this in quick scan of tutorial material.

Such trees and bushes may have been planted, but many years ago. They may have been tended, in the sense that a farmer will have run a flail mower over them. But in other senses they are (now) naturalized.


Take into account that plants distribution is chaotic although reflecting the ecology of the different species. Thus, if you see some trees or shrubs, especially if ornamental, growing in line it can be rather sure that it is unlikely (not impossible but highly unlikely) that they are there only by chance.
Time does not change anything concerning the possible wild status of a plant. Perhaps you could check if they have produced an offpsring in their proximity.

A rather more difficult case is that of urban gardens where many ornamental trees and shrubs often apparently grow with a random distribution.

If this is Europe we are talking about, some of the hedgerows in Britain are literally many hundreds of years old, so in those cases we can assume that the original plants are now replaced by their descendent plants, and therefore we can count it as wild by iNat standards.


Thank you, Susan. This is more or less my position but I did not want to stray across any guidelines.

Blue_celery says

growing in line it can be rather sure that it is unlikely (not impossible but highly unlikely) that they are there only by chance

I think the mechanism for successor trees in a hedge to grow in a line goes like this: seeds and runners are spread in all directions, but the fields or either side or the hedge are tilled or grazed thus eliminating successors. However, seeds and runners along the line of the hedge where is no, or less, disturbance are able to develop.

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it depends if a species produces runners or not. As regards, for example, poplars often reproduce vegetatively through runners and if let unmanaged they can produce a sort of a forest around the older individuals.
Anyway, it must be verified, case by case, that what is observed now is the offspring of an ancient cultivation and not take it for granted. Otherwise you risk to confuse a coltivated plant for an escapee.
As already written, time does not mean anything.

this is another grey area but if humans seem to have planted the tree, mark as cultivated, no matter how old it is. But yes, over hundreds of years things sprout on their own too. Are hedgerows continually planted or just mowed/cleared around?

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It’s a mixed bag. Few farmers want to just continuously plant hedgerows. Many are just continuously mowed/cleared/plowed around. Some aren’t even planted, coming about through a process wherein one field is established and an area of woodlot along the edge of the field takes on some “edge” characteristics, some of the trees grow up with more spreading branches etc- and then the adjacent woodlot also gets cleared for a field but the farmer leaves that edge strip (now exposed on both sides) as a windbreak. This happens especially often if a seasonal stream runs through it. Due to the long history and sometimes undisturbed/unplowed soils and seedbank, hedgerows like this are hotspots for interesting plants in my area.

Out-of-range species like Osage Orange, fruit trees, black locust (if in rows) are usually good indicators of more intentionally planted hedgerows in those cases. In Europe I wouldn’t know where to start teasing apart the landscape with 1500 years of disturbance and clearing vs. ~150 here.

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It may also be the case that a hedgerow that appears to have been planted by humans was instead just “allowed” or planned by humans. I rememeber in some gardening for nature books reading about hedgerows. They often crop up under powerlines and along fences from seeds in bird poop. One technique was to string a line up where you wanted a hedgerow and see what the birds “plant” for you and then mow around it. Would that count as cultivated? There’s a reason I don’t do many plant observations! The whole cultivated designation can be real head scratcher.


With these grey area cases, I think asking others for their views is good, but there is no right and wrong answer. Ultimately, if you put your thought into it and determine one way or the other, anyone else can add their vote to the DQA in support or opposition to your view. Either way, you are neither right nor wrong! If someone challenges you, keep in mind that your view is right, whatever it is, and if they give you reason to change your view, then you can change your captive/cultivated setting at any time!

In other words, you are putting what YOU think it is… so you can’t be wrong!


Even after reading many of the discussions on what should be marked as cultivated, I still don’t really know how people determine how to mark things. I think you would have to be extremely knowledgeable about the history of any particular location, and botany in general to follow some of the guidelines I’ve seen. A lot of the preserves that seem pretty “wild” around here used to be cleared farmland, or even garbage dumps. People would have done extensive planting of both seeds and transplants to convert them. When I go to a preserve I have no idea what was actually planted by people… unless it’s a very new planting with obvious mulch or protective mesh around it.

I’ve seen some say that they know something is planted because it doesn’t grow wild in that location. How would the average iNat user know that though?

just do the best you can. If you don’t know, it’s fine to leave it as wild.

Once someone is making the ID, they can look at the map of that species to see if the primary concentration is in that area or a different area, and if the latter, read the description of it. Most of the descriptions give the native range. Some of this is hard to see on the app but pretty easy to double check once in front of the computer. Often the app isn’t sure, and shows a species, saying ‘visually similar’ (as opposed to ‘visually similar, seen nearby’)–when it doesn’t say ‘seen nearby’, it is a good clue to check the range.

I would suggest just the opposite…
… for me it is better to have less non-flagged unclear obs…
but, of course, it is just my opinion.
Maybe in case of uncertainty, a user could ask for an opinion just to let the community take a decision

I don’t think there’s necessarily a good answer to those questions except on a site by site basis. A lot of former farmland, dumps etc will fill in entirely on their own once they’re abandoned, and can naturally seed in species that don’t normally grow wild in that location if planted specimens nearby are producing seed, and so all of these would count as “wild”. Other places are very deliberately planted in, but entirely with species that do naturally grow wild in the vicinity. I’m with Charlie on leaving it wild if the answers are very unclear. At the least, while an old tree might present uncertainty, if it has any spontaneous offspring as seedlings or saplings nearby you can observe them as “wild” with a greater degree of confidence.

due to the way iNat treats casual observations (essentially: irrelevant, unimportant, and invisible) and due to the way that marking as cultivated sets the observation to casual with no chance of recourse, my personal belief is that is an extremely bad practice, or at the very least a great disservice, to mark observations this way in general, let alone when you are uncertain of origin. Doing so essentially discards the observation never to be seen again. Fact is, even a plant that was planted by a human has ecological importance, creates microhabitats for specific organisms, and plays important roles in an area’s ecosystem, and I feel like these factors are more important to iNat’s mission than any conversation about plant purism. Unless iNat revamps the way cultivated observations are treated, I personally advocate to err in favor of the plant. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, but this is how I have always seen it anyway.


In Britain you can estimate the how many hundreds of years a farmer-maintained hedge is old by the number of different species of bush or tree in it.

If we are talking about a hedge that is over 100 years old I would say for sure mark it wild, because you are not recording the hedge itself, you are recording the individual bushes and trees in it.


I don’t think that’s true at all. Instead, they get ignored because the people who do ID help aren’t interested in them. Maybe just recruit more people interested in cultivated plants. But the fact is people like to add them but there’s not much interest in identifying them. Part of why I think the grey areas can be left alone. But knowingly not marking something because you want an ID is really an abuse of the community. Please don’t do that. There are a lot of good reasons we want them on the maps as discussed in excruciating depth elsewhere.

It comes down to generations basically. Some people have different opinions of what counts but in a basic sense, I think we can all agree that only future generations should be counted, provided they were not assisted.

Here is a scale, from 0 (captive) to 10 (wild). Most people would count plants as wild at a score of at least 3. Some may count as low as 1. Some may not count until higher values.

0 - Original tree (planted)
1 - Shadowed offspring (growing under parent). Usually die prematurely. Generation 1 plants.
2 - Saplings from original tree, still within close sight of parents. Generally die prematurely. Generation 1 plants.
3 - Saplings from the above step maturing, and then producing more saplings. Longer-term survival. Generation 2+ plants.
4 - Generation 2+ saplings spreading into wild areas. Reproduction evidenced.
5 - Generation 2+ trees and saplings with obvious “infestation range”, spreading across into multiple sites or along a creek.
6 - Later generation saplings appearing a mile or more far from parent site, but still traceable to the original parent plants (i.e. generation <= 2).
7 - Scattered colonies across multiple sites. Spread between local areas evidenced, with self-sustaining populations probable.
8 - Several colonies persisting for multiple consecutive years. Several satellite colonies continuing to spread new plants.
9 - Several colonies adapting to various habitats, even outside of urban landscapes. May or may not be localized, but no doubt that the plant is spreading and sustaining.
10 - Widespread weed.

Technically? I think we can all agree anything above score=1 is confirmed wild and growing on its own. But what score counts for you, personally, as “iNat wild”, and worthy as a data point? That’s for you to decide, since no one shares the same opinion.

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As original poster I must thank respondents for a full and thoughtful discussion. Also I suppose I should provide a little more contexts for my original question, which perhaps I should have done at the outset(!).
May be TL;DR…
Cornish Hedges are not like hedges elsewhere, and many may not consider them to be hedges at all. Rather they are a sort of earthwork: two parallel inward leaning stone walls (field stone is super abundant) with the space between the walls filled with earth (US - dirt). They can be 1500 - 3000mm thick at the base and 750mm at the top. Modern hedges are not usually planted when built but the seed bank in the earth soon greens them up in the mild wet climate of west Cornwall.
Some hedges are very old. It is worth quoting Oliver Rackham, academic historian of the British landscape. (he calls Cornish hedges banks):

In the Land’s End Peninsula there is one of the most impressively ancient
farmland landscapes in Europe.[…] The banks, from their construction
are contemporary with the fields; once formed they are difficult
to alter and cannot be added to. They can be roughly dated by
the Bronze Age objects buried in the banks. These banks, indeed, are
among the world’s oldest artifacts still in use.[1]

[1] Oliver Rackham. The History of the Countryside. J. M. Dent. London.


It sounds like nothing is planted from the outset, so everything that grows there is likely wild by iNat standards. I would consider so at least.

I find it interesting to think they are dated by the artifacts in the earth that is used to fill them, which could have been present in the earth at source prior to this usage for some considerable time. As far as dating, I would think it would set an earliest possible date, but the actual could be any amount of time since. Unless the items are evidently new when placed.