Please educate your students in proper procedures

Educators, it is great to get students out looking at plants and posting observations on iNat. I applaud you. But, please educate your students in the importance of accuracy in scientific procedures/observations.

A reminder is that iNat is for wild organisms, not cultivated or captive organisms. A pet peeve of mine is the many many many observations of hybrid/cultivar rhododendrons that appear in the geographical region I live in that are of plants growing in gardens and public spaces that are being reported on iNat as wild. Just because a specific plant has been growing for years in a garden does not mean the species/hybrid is established in an area. Other than plants that reproduce on their own and can become weeds garden plants, such as rhododendrons, are not wild and should be marked as such. This is a situation that is not unique to my area for this popular garden plant.

Location information for any observation needs to be as accurate as possible. That information starts with the observer, not the person who checks an observation. I know my phone location data is sometimes inaccurate and I don’t always catch it. But, here is an example of inaccurate location data, that teachers need to check for when teaching their students. Given the exact leaf damage pattern and what appears to be bird dropping residue on a leaf, we have the same Rhododendron plant reported twice from two different locations.

Here are links to the observations:
Links removed by moderator to avoid calling out individual users as specific in Forum Guidelines

Thanks, and keep inspiring your students to learn.


Use the DQA for location inaccurate - which will anyway push the obs to Casual.


I added “Please” to the title.


Which means that the school grounds may not be a suitable location unless the students are instructed to look for invertebrates. From what I have seen, I believe that trying to do iNatting on the school grounds is the direct cause of a lot of these problems.

That, and the fact that the field guides students are using may have wild species closely related to garden hybrids. If there’s a rhododendron there, it is likely to be identified as the one shown in the field guide. This information gap is a real problem when people are iNatting in human-centric environments like schools and city parks. Field guides need not and should not expand to include cultivars; but this means that observers need to be alerted to the reason why much of what they see in these settings will not be in their field guides.


Just adding that for cultivated plants and the like, it’s easier to go in and mark it as captive/cultivated than be perturbed about it. The algorithm makes it easy for people to find out what is planted near them, and they aren’t thinking of it from a scientist’s perspective, they’re still trying to interact with the app and nature so I give them a pass.


As someone who’s been working as an educator in an extremely urban area for several years, THANK YOU for bringing this up. It’s easy to forget how much of the frustration we see on the identification side is a natural result of the context people are observing in, especially if they’re just starting to wrap their heads around the natural world (which is so often the case for students). For many people, a plant is a plant is a plant and the difference between one planted in landscaping and one naturally occurring in the landscape may not be an intuitive one.

That said, it should obviously be the role of the educator(s) involved to highlight this distinction and other notable things that relate to the scientific side of observing. However, the educators themselves may need to learn these things first! There are plenty of useful resources for them, but then we get to the same old question… how do we make sure that anyone using iNat in a school setting does their due diligence and finds the resources that would help? They probably aren’t scouring the forum before giving a class assignment (though it would help to do so).



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To quote iNaturalist’s help page, “Although iNat is primarily for sharing observations of wild organisms, observations of captive animals, garden plants, and other organisms most naturalists may not find interesting are okay (they’re alive, after all).”

When introducing students to iNat, the important thing is to train them to mark everything they think is captive/cultivated as this. There’s no need to insist that they avoid non-wild species that interest them.


Yep, accurate identifications and locations are far more important than the wild/not-wild issue.

Indeed, observing captive/cultivated species has a definite use as it can help to identify or track the introduction of non-native species, and there are other interesting research projects using iNat on cultivated plants, such as the Banana natural biodiversity mapping project which can provide interesting information for other fields as bananas are an excellent species used to track historical and prehistoric human movement.


earthknight Fascinating! I didn’t know banana distributions were being used to track past human movements. Clever.

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Yes, just to be moderate about this. I’m currently studying native bees and we record plant associations of these bees on iNaturalist so that we have records of what the bees are foraging on. This information gives more depth to the studies and can help inform conservation efforts. Sometimes these plants are cultivated and are noted as such. The plants in my yard are cultivated but the pollinators are wild. Having good images of these cultivated plants help others identify what their pollinators are foraging on.


Here where I live it often seems that educators/teachers must be educated first.


I want to add that there are potential scientific applications for this as well. Sometimes I add notable cultivated plants so that other people can know where to find them. …Mostly so it’s easy to swipe a few seedpods to propagate them, but people could study cultivated plants too!

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Those are fun (I’m being a tad sarcastic here). I see those a lot since we have quite a few native rhododendrons in our area as well and it appears almost every cultivated hybrid rhodo or azalea gets labeled as either one of those or the apparently ubiquitous R. ponticum, which actually shouldn’t be here at all. Not sure this will ever get sorted out since it’s so hard to tell e.g. Catawbiense hybrids from actual R. catawbiense just based on photographs. It often comes down to taking a guess based on location and habitat.

There’s a lot of planty and shroomy wild stuff to find as well: Mosses and lichens on tree bark, weeds in the planted beds, mushrooms popping up under trees etc. A lot of these are a challenge to ID though and I know this results in lots of observations of dandelions, clover and such from the same location. But as others have already pointed out, tracking invasives and their flowering times can be very useful.

In addition, for some classes or student projects non-wild observations of plants may actually be useful/desired. We have a phenology garden on campus, for example that is part of a grant-funded multi-university educational project tied to climate change questions. We also have several student research projects going on that look at plant-pollinator interactions. Knowing what plants the pollinators are visiting (even if those are cultivated) is important data for these. I think it really comes down to this:

I’ll add to this that the first training target are probably the instructors training the students. Usually there is less turnover in that group of people compared to the students they’re teaching. In our first campus-wide BioBlitz, we had a ton of cultivated plant observations that weren’t marked properly. This number has come down as people on campus (including participating instructors) have gotten more familiar with iNaturalist and how to introduce it to students.


I believe the issue is the many observations of cultivated organisms are added by a large group of people. It floods the identification process. Identifiers to try and correct the mistakes, but it’s tedious and not always obvious which are cultivated. There can be so many that after a while I give up on identification. Unfortunately this means I skip over observations of non-cultivated organisms.

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iNaturalist already has a very handy resource for educators called the Teacher’s Guide. Also, casual/cultivated observations definitely have a place and purpose on this website. And as others have said, all your other issues can be dealt with via the Data Quality Assessment below any offending observation.


What would iNAT prefer to call any Specimen (Captive or wild) for any instances like this:
A Saltwater Crocodile hatched from collected Egg, bred in a breeding place (of say within the Bhitarkanika or Sundarban National Park) and subsequently released into the wild from the hatchery and rearing complex into the water bodies of Bhitarkanika National Park or The Sundarban National Park (say after attaining the age of three years)?
Birth time to 3 years- Captive when it has been observed in the rearing complex
After 3 years- Wild- When it has been observed in the Rivers.

Best thing to do is to try to ID to species and then tag as captive/cultivated. If enough people follow up on this consistently in their area, the algorithm eventually catches on that yes, this is a captive/cultivated species in this area and tag it as such without need for your own intervention.

There are some taxa where this doesn’t work, like Echium candicans in the Monterey Bay area, since it has many captive but also a good amount of self-established examples (usually in a semi-urban context), but overall the system does work relatively well.

I suppose there may be an educator or two who has not taught their students how to use iNaturalist properly, and I certainly agree with you that teachers should spend a considerable amount of time showing students how to properly use the site. But, I would almost guarantee you that there are educators who went over information tirelessly and perhaps more than once whose students (not all but some) still made major errors. It’s part of the learning process. Teachers are absolutely used to explaining and then discovering someone hasn’t taken in the information. So it’s not always about not educating–honest. :) Students miss information. Should the teacher keep a close eye on students’ submissions? Yes. But, even then, if students are contributing, there will be mistakes.


The new, updated Teacher’s Guide is:

The iNat definitions of wild/captive/cultivated are here:

There are a lot of threads already about specific captive/cultivated/wild situations, such as
but there are many more.

It’s probably best to avoid discussion of whether specific scenarios would be wild/not here since that isn’t the focus of the thread, but we can reopen a different existing captive/wild thread to continue discussion there if desired.