Establishment Rating for Plants

I feel like I’m fighting people on whether X or Y plant is wild or not on a regular basis, so I thought I’d raise a discussion. I developed this rating inspired by the BOU (British Ornithologist’s Union) in terms of how to decide if a plant “counts” as wild. Plants can be labelled from Category A to E depending on their circumstances. Here’s what I have so far:

Category A: Native and naturally occurring in the given circumstances.
Discussion: Plants that are considered native to the immediate area, such as within a county, or district.

Category B: Native, but no longer suspected to occur in the wild in the immediate area.
Discussion: This is a rare category, but necessary; it describes plants that may have diminished from human activities, or even gone extinct; their remaining presence is a result of captive populations. Most plants in this category are directly planted such as in botanic gardens, in which case they fall to Category E; however, they become countable as “wild” under Category B if spreading from plantings, such as from restoration sites.

Category C: Introduced but thriving, widespread dispersal without assistance across many habitat types.
Category C2: Localized introduction; dispersal present but limited to specific niches or habitat types.
Discussion: Most weeds fit into this category. The distinction between C and C2 is possibly too arbitrary to be useful.

Category D: A waif, usually occasional or a one-off, but with no evidence of planting. No parent plants known in the vicinity.
Category D2: A waif, not likely to be planted, but parent plants known and within 50 feet.
Category D3: Localized to known parent plants, such as saplings spreading from a parent tree. Generally within 15 feet of parents.
Discussion: This category applies to species that are usually considered non-wild, but are occurring in a manner suggesting they are not planted. For instance, plants occurring in unusual circumstances, such as a lone individual occurring within a neat row of planted shrubs, or plants that are an unintended addition to an otherwise manicured landscape.

Category E: A known planting, or otherwise highly likely to be planted (e.g. planted in a pattern, a species known to be sterile and/or regularly planted by humans, or seed mixes/wildflower packs). No evidence of reproduction, and circumstantially very likely to be planted.

Most databases would be willing to treat up to Category D(1). For iNaturalist, up to Category D3 fits the description of “wild”. However, for other sites like eBird, only Category C would be counted. I understand individual opinions vary, but this is some attempt to standardize these different circumstances.


Personally, pretty much the only times I mark a plant as “not wild” is if it was clearly planted, is a domestic variety that occurs in the type of place you’d expect it to be planted (eg. a garden, hedge, etc), or if it’s in a botanical garden and is clearly not a volunteer within that garden.

I think a lot of people get mixed up about the differences between “wild/not-wild” versus “native/introduced/naturalized/invasive/etc”.


It sounds like the standard is E for captured/cultivated on iNat.

The categories seem to try to include native or introduced, as well as invasive or welcomed, which are handled by other means, into a rather simple idea. Tying them all together would result in many more gray areas than a simple captive/cultivated.

It’s such a huge can of worms…

I’m going to assume from the use of the word “fighting” that we are talking about having differing opinions to others over whether something is wild or cultivated.

iNat has a statement about what it constitutes as wild vs cultivated in it’s help pages, with a few examples.

The DQA status is a vote situation, with only 2 options. Ideally, I think a “grey area” third option would help.

I think the best option would be to compile a “standard response” text, outlining in brief that it is a vote situation, that you have personally considered iNat’s official position when coming to your own position in this observation (with links to the appropriate help pages), and that if they differ in opinion (perhaps after reviewing the iNat official position again) then they are able to make a vote themselves to support the position they see it as. Perhaps also allude to being open to changing ones position if information is presented that would change it. Then just make your DQAs, and if challenged you can roll out the standard reply.

I think it has to be both ways though… an expectation that they respect your position comes with an expectation that you respect theirs, so if they vote differently to yourself, just let the majority of votes decide what it is.

I don’t think creating a number of categories is going to help, as there will always be cases of “what about this, which is neither A nor D”.


Mmm, I’m not sure the problem here is the lack of a well-defined category for people to put an obs into. I think the main issue is that many (most?) observers either don’t appreciate that the difference between wild and captive/cultivated is important (to some of us), or don’t even realise the DQA exists at the bottom of the page, so don’t know how to note status if they do care. Like most of us, I see countless obs of exotic birds in aviaries or of cultivated plants in gardens listed as wild. There may be a few people who don’t note captive/cultivated because they want their obs to be RG, but I suspect they’re relatively few.

I can’t help thinking that if we can’t get most people to decide between and note wild vs cultivated, we’re going to struggle an awful lot more to get them to choose between five categories (some with sub-categories).

And in thinking about this, we probably have to keep remembering that those of us contributing to the forum are possibly not typical users; we’re probably an atypical minority with a special interest in how the site functions, and how the data it gathers may be used.


I’ve just looked at James’ original post and it looks like he might be using the categories purely for the discussion about whether they fit as wild or cultivated. In other words, instead of discussing individual situations, he is suggesting grouping into types of situations and THEN discussing whether that group is wild or cultivated. If that is the case, it could be a good approach!

What it would effectively do is greatly narrow the grey area cases. Given the majority of observations will more easily fall into one of the categories, and any that fall in grey areas between two categories that are deemed to be wild (for iNat purposes) would logically be treated as wild much more decisively. It would have to be in the grey area between a wild and a cultivated category to still be considered grey area. And again, I think he means “in terms of holding conversations about these assessments”

Bold added by me. Unless the photo shows something to the contrary, you pretty much have to go with the OP of the observation, especially with aesthetically pleasing plants such as Texas Bluebonnets( Lupinus texensis). Even when the map shows that it is in a neighborhood, it could be growing wild in untended areas.

Restoration sites are an area of differing opinions. LLELA(Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area) has a prairie restoration area. They have a native grass seed mixture and native plants that they add to the area annually. Walking through the area, you might not be aware of that. The workers of the area could give insight as to which seem to have taken hold, but as a third party, only recently planted plants would be obviously cultivated.

Weeds I would say are wild, even though I suspect my neighbor is trying to cultivate them. :)

Plants such as Japanese Honeysuckle(Lonicera japonica), which are aesthetically pleasing plants, are in a similar situation as in Category A. You have to go with the OPs assessment of the situation.

You don’t have a category for waifs of native plants whose parents were (most likely) planted that otherwise fit into the D category. I have tons of volunteer oaks in my yard from my own tree, a volunteer pine that I assume came from one of my distant neighbors. These as well as the "D"s I consider not cultivated. They weren’t planted.


First, I completely understand the iNat definition of cultivated vs wild.

Secondly, I am just a gardener, with no scientific training whatsoever. As far as gardening, knowing about plants, I think I am fairly good at it. With that mentality, it just is never going to sink in as “wild”, when I know perfectly well, it is a seedling of something I planted. My other problem is, even though something was once planted by a human, if it survives for years and years with no human intervention, at some point it should at least be considered naturalized to a location.

These are just strictly my opinions, but I do think it sort of answers why they are so many gray areas to the cultivated/wild theory. Because scientists look at it one way and laymans in another way.

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Reminds me of discussions about native vs introduced vs “endemic”. A professor friend had a particular dislike for “endemic” (and I agree but precinctive has not caught on). See link to his paper’s PDF

I think Category D can apply to native or non-native species. But more likely most of these would be Category B since they represent a species known to occur in the region, even if they are offshoots of planted ones.

The division between “wild” and “non-wild” is the main point of this discussion. So far we all have our own lines as to where we do, and do not, count something as wild or not. Regardless of whether it is native, or non-native. My post is really just an attempt to form a guideline that people can use to categorize plants based on “most wild” to “least wild”, ending with Category E which is unambiguously planted. People can use these categories to decide and quantify what they are counting, or not.

It is helpful to have these ratings in a discussion. Instead of trying to describe the circumstances, I can simply say “Category D2” and the circumstances are explained immediately.

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“Fighting” is just differing opinions, yes. No actual punches have been thrown in real life just yet :)

iNat does have the statement but it is somewhat ambiguous. What it lacks like other databases is an actual tier list of examples and ratings of the different types of naturalized plants. Not all cases are alike so it isn’t enough to say “well just count it if it is wild, and don’t if it isn’t”.

Part of the reason I think we need a third “grey area” category. If a researcher wants to see all the wild observations, they can select wild, and if they are wanting to review the grey area ones to see if any meet the criteria that they personally have for wild, then they can do so to the grey area category. As it is at present, they would have to review all observations to do that. This of course assumes that they can’t review based on dissension in the DQA… If they could query based on ratio of wild:cultivated votes in the DQA, then they could effectively limit their review to the ones that are most contentious, and both sides of the tipping point! But in order for that to be accurately reflected, people need to relax on expecting the result from the DQA vote to agree with their own vote. People are treating it like a black and white situation where if it doesn’t match their view of what it should be, then they need to “fix it”.

I think the greatest conflict over the determination is in whether or not the observation qualifies for RG. This again raises the over-emphasis that people seem to have on things becoming RG, which to my thinking now is far less important than I used to think when I first joined iNat.


@tallastro Thanks for the link to the fascinating paper by Frank & McCoy. Lots to think about!

You can create a traditional project.
Add a needed text field with all your desired options, so people who like to add to his project and answer your question.
If you create a text field you make the first option a default option and seperate each following option with a pipe | … in example: i dont know|category A|B|C|…
Name the text field meaningfull and add a clear description.

People who add to the project automaticaly get bugged about your fields.
Some will like to answer all your question some do not or not always.

If the project is meaningfull, this means a short description where you tell why the data is important to you, people may join and contribute.

I think this would be de best solution in this case.

I understand, to you every category has a special meaning and is not the same as a other category, but most users dont want to get bugged with hunderts of questions and any way they do not even know what a category could be at all.

May this can help you out a bit.
I think it can be interesting data, but some times i also do not like to spend a hower on an observation to click every thumb up down and answer hunderts of questions about an ant.

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