Disappointing consistent failure: users not marking observations as cultivated

I’ll admit I’m guilty of uploading a few cultivated observations, though only when I think they’re significant enough (like old female ginkgos). Maybe if there was some sort of feature that analyzes the area where the observation was made, and if it was at a place such as a greenhouse, a park, or a city street, then you’d get a pop up that asks if you are sure its wild or not.


I expect this is true. And at the same time, many of these folks may lack the time, financial resources, access, awareness, or simply encouragement to find and observe things in more wild settings.

Given the broader social mission of iNaturalist, do we risk making their first (and last) iNat experience be, sorry, we don’t care that you want to know the identity of your potted plant?

Or can we find a way to convey, yes we do care that you are interested in your potted plant, here is what we think it is, and here is how we mark things when they are in planted or captive settings. Welcome to the community. And by the way, if you are able to visit more wild places outdoors, we would love to have your observations from there also.

I definitely share the preference of most folks in this thread for observations from the wild. In my iNat filter bubble, I don’t seem to encounter planted/captive observations very often, but maybe that is because of my relatively rural setting and interests. Or maybe I’ve just gotten proficient at mentally filtering them out.

But if we want to grow our ranks, and support from beyond our ranks, I think we need to both:

  • encourage (or at least not discourage) ID and interaction with planted/captive observations, by not removing them from “Needs ID” for that DQA alone, and
  • find better ways to on-board new users and educate them about the planted/captive DQA and the difference between that and wild (so they can be filtered out or in), without conveying value judgements about the two conditions (no observation is “worthless”), and with encouragement to seek out wild organisms.

Neither of these ideas is new; both have been suggested before.


Problem: Users are not marking their observation as captive-cultivated, as this lowers their chance of getting a ID.

Solution: Provide the same service to captive-cultivated observations as to wild ones: This means, implement a separate “identify” feature and a “compare” feature for captive-cultivated observations (which compares the observation to other captive-cultivated observations in the area). And give confirmed captive-cultivated observations a “confirmed ID” label (same color and form as the “research grade” label).

Then tell users that their chance of getting an ID on cultivated plants (or captive animals) is higher if they mark them as captive-cultivated.

This will motivate users to deliver good data … and it will give every identifier the stream of species he wants to ID … either wild only, or both, or captive-cultivated only.


Beautifully said.


I agree with a lot of what’s been said. I want to add a reason to be forgiving of many people posting edge-cases. My career has lead me to move a lot: as a renter and a newly arrival to the area/ecosystem, it is often really hard for me to tell what’s planted and what’s wild – even in my own backyard, or wandering the streets of my own neighborhood. (Moreover, even saplings and herbs in cultivated areas are sometimes windblown weeds! Sometimes the things that make it hard for us to adjudicate cultivated/wild after the fact are the same things challenging the OP!)


There are a few basic iNaturalist rules/guidelines and features that new users generally don’t know and have to find out on their own. As a result, the same mistakes are consistently made by (it feels like) every new user. Not knowing to mark things as cultivated is a big one, and I think not knowing that it’s possible to add multiple photos to a single observation (resulting in duplicates) is also significant. Just the other day someone with over 400 observations asked me how to put multiple photos in an observation.

I think simple tutorial that every new user (mobile or desktop) needs to go through would significantly reduce this. This has been suggested many times, but @tiwane has also indicated that there are plans for that, so I’m not sure if an actual feature request would be useful?

I don’t know if the onboarding has changed at all in the past year, so my assumption is that it’s no more than what was described here. I’m guessing that most users try to figure a program out on their own first, and only look for guidance if they get stuck. So if they are successfully able to post observations without any indication that something’s been done wrong, then they may just continue to do so.


I don’t think we should create any additional steps for established users to jump through but what about this: a beginner mode that does hand hold and make you choose a taxa and note whether it is wild… but make it very easy to deactivate it. Maybe require something like 10 research grade observations or maybe even make it possible to turn it off in settings… most new users who don’t devote enough time to figure out how to assign species or mark as captive probably won’t devote enough time to turn off beginner mode either. But those who want to use the site to gather lots of data would quickly be able to do so.

For what it’s worth adding just a second or two per observation does matter a lot to me. I use iNat on the app as basically a turbo field guide and have become very quick at adding things while i am doing stuff like conducting a vegetation plot or chasing a kid around. If it got any slower at all, the app would be a lot less useful to me.

I kind of think peoples expectations about data here (and elsewhere) just aren’t realistic though. It isn’t a place to pop in without any community involvement and take any data that pops up as it is perfect. It’s a place to have a relationship with the community and with certain taxa or geographic locations… learn the data from those taxa or places well and talk to the others who add them, and it becomes incredibly useful. Also you can fix bad data almost all of the time. It isn’t a flawless dataset but neither is any other data set and while ‘professionally’ collected data may have somewhat higher accuracy rate it also rarely has photo evidence and thus is difficult to check and even things like herbariums with physical evidence don’t have easy ways to have a discussion, you end up sticking post it notes on or whatever, and ruining the archival paper :)


I really would like a 2-tier system for identification of cultivated/captive organisms. The people who post these things do want names, and I’d like to make it possible for them to get those names, but also possible for us to ignore these observations if we wish.

A pop-up about wild vs. cultivated for beginners is probably a good idea, though we should realize that some people will just guess.

When I first used iNaturalist, I would get upset about people who don’t mark plants cultivated and I’d explain that they should do this. Eventually I realized two things: 1. It took me less time to check “cultivated” than to explain. 2. Most people who don’t mark cultivated won’t stay around long, and the ones that do will generally learn.

(One of my many pet peeves is that people don’t mark Gingko biloba as cultivated. It is ALWAYS cultivated, everywhere, except I did see one photo of one seedling that apparently hadn’t been planted.)

My biggest worry about observations of cultivated plants isn’t the ones that are obviously cultivated but aren’t marked as such, but the ones photographed in such a way that I can’t tell they’re in a garden. Oh, well.


This could be handy for so many new users. Not only “Is this wild?”, but “You have left the species blank. Even a general guess like ‘animals’, ‘plants’ or ‘fungi’ helps.” “Uh-oh, you are missing a location. Would you like to add it now (you can mark it private or obscured if you don’t want others to see the location)”, “You’ve attached multiple photos. Do all your photos show the same organism?”

Of course, whether it’s one pop-up or many, it would take a long time to implement: multiple platforms (web, android, iOS), multiple languages, potential latency from the extra steps during times where there are a lot of new users (bioblitzes, city nature challenges, etc), test cycles and testers, etc.


Please tiwane, that of Erwin is a request of intervention. If the tone he used may seem too harsh (I wouldn’t consider it destructive) it could be because he feels that this issue is to be necessarily addressed.
And the many contributions in this thread suggest that may of us have similar feelings. Please try to treasure what has been written here by many users


Yes, I have had the same feeling many time. Indeed some, actually few, users who were asked to flag this kind of observations started to click on thumb-up beside “the organism is wild” to try to prevent that the observations would be marked as casual.
Anyway, the active choice not to voluntarily flag a potted plant is different from leaving a box unchecked because it could be not so well visible.
In the end, I think that people should join iNat well aware that it is meant for mapping wild organisms and not to ask for an identification of a plant they have been gifted or because someone (e.g. a teacher) has told them to do so in order to photograph something somewehere without a criterion.

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Nothing wrong in posting photos of, e.g., cultivated plants if they show interesting features. I previously suggested a user to start a project to collect observations of pottentially invasive plants that were cultivated in the surroundings of natural habitats.
Well photographed cultivated organisms can show morphological features that are important for the identification of the wild ones.


I think there’s actually huge value in documenting some kinds of cultivated plants - for instance, you could use the maps of certain common garden plants to overlay with population maps of at-risk pollinators, or birds, and see correlations… so don’t feel guilty about uploading them! I think the problem is not that these observations exist, but simply that they are usually not properly categorized.


I agree. My rule of thumb is, if it’s outdoors the data is valuable because wild creatures interact with it.
And it’s also legit to upload a cultivated potted indoor plant to show a potential new user the capabilities and general use of iNat, though of course I add it’s really meant for wild / outdoor organisms.


I have struggled with this casual versus ID issue ever since I joined iNat.

It is called naturalist not scientist - the ‘stated aim’ is to encourage non - scientists to see that green stuff as What Plant is That, or moving stuff as What Animal is That.

It is unfortunate that iNat uses one box for Needs ID, which tips to Casual. We bring our obs in the hope of getting an ID - that is our learning curve.

We need 2 boxes.

One for Needs ID, which goes to Research Grade when all conditions are satisfied (could then be greyed out as 'NOT wild ')

But please could we make a small cosmetic change - replace the judgmental Casual with Cultivated / Captive . And cultivated needs to come first, since the balance would tip to cultivated and exotic plants, rather than captive animals (or pets)?

We need a second box which toggles between Wild and Cultivated / Captive (and remains visible as such). This is a separate issue to whether the observation can be used for Research Grade.

I resent, when I can see that plant is clearly cultivated, that I have to degrade a valid obs by marking it Casual. Chuck it in the bin with the cute puppy videos! Next!!

If we want, to encourage them out there, to begin to see the value of Long live the wilderness yet, we need to reach out a hand and guide them to - that - pretty flower is invasive … this one is better because it supports local wildlife.

In grateful deference to the biologists here - iNat could add an option to hide from them Not Wild, Cultivated / Captive obs - so they can concentrate their useful time on what is worth their time.

In an ideal world, many city dwellers would be field biologists. But, most of us live in cities. The nature we see is gardens, parks, street trees. That should have value for naturalists.


Currently (unless it’s been changed since this) the only clear text instruction guiding new mobile users making their first observation explicitly says that it’s not necessary to add an identification. See the Android screenshots in this post: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/guiding-new-users-without-scaring-them-off/2242/5

Changing the wording of that message, and adding a couple similar messages for those other key concepts would help a lot.


You’re right, and sometimes people (old or new) legitimately don’t know what they’re looking at.

I was kind of thinking how sometimes new people fill out the description, thinking it’s the identification. I thought this as a pop-up could help that…and hoping it would also serve as a gentle prod if they’re just uploading without even trying to put anything.


That message did seem really badly worded to me too. I submitted a quick pull request to change it to something that sounds better to me, but maybe others want to give suggestions on the wording? :)


Diana, I love EVERYTHING you just wrote here.

I joined iNaturalist in 2016. It’s been a little over 3 years and I was somehow blithely unaware that when I marked an observation as captive/cultivated it was also removing it from the Needs ID pool (l thought people were just setting their own filters to ignore those observations).

I guess I can see the logic: it’s shorthand for “Needs [community] ID to get to Research Grade”, and non-wild things will never get to Research Grade…but that’s not how I ever read Needs ID. I don’t think that’s how most users would interpret the words “Needs ID”. And as you pointed out, that’s not how it should be read for the site’s goals (to encourage interaction with Nature).

Yes, captive/cultivated absolutely needs to remain in Needs ID, and the choice to not view them should be a personal setting, not the default.


Yes, @dianastuder has put it perfectly. Just because something is captive/cultivated should not mean that it disappears into the grey hole of ‘Casual’.

Wild organisms interact with non-wild organisms, and this is valuable information.

My particular frustration is that I rear caterpillars, and they eat whatever they eat including garden plants, which I need to get ID’d. I don’t understand garden plants (I’m a child of the veld (= natural vegetation)), but I do have to identify these plants somehow and, in theory, a global site like iNat is the best place to do this (with photos).

If I mark the plant as cultivated, I rarely get an ID. So what I do is leave it as wild until I get an ID, and then mark it as cultivated. All my rearings are submitted to the Caterpillar Rearing Group and we publish our records every couple of years. Therefore the IDs of both the moths and plants have to be as accurate as possible!