Your explanation and reasoning here I think illustrates how the concept of wildness as construed by iNaturualist is ill-defined. You start by saying:
But then in your reasoning, you go on to say:
Growing on its own, in competition with other plants, is not the same as whether or not a plant is planted.
I can plant a plant in a wild area, then leave it and never intervene, and it’ll be left to compete on its own with other wild plants.
Conversely, I can go into an area, and cut back or uproot the plants in competition with a plant that seeded into an area on its own. This will be giving the one plant an “artificial” boost. Perhaps the plant would not have survived on its own. Perhaps it would have, but now, with my help, it grows faster, bigger, and produces more seed.
The point I’m trying to make here is that wildness is more complex than just whether or not a plant is planted. You begin by stating that this is just about a plant was planted by people, but your reasoning and logic demonstrate that you are actually using a different, broader definition in your head. You are thinking about wildness in a way that implicitly assumes a lot more than just whether or not a plant was planted. People who use the iNaturalist data to do scence may also make similar assumptions. One of the biggest problems with trying to do science is becoming aware of your implicit assumptions…when I read peer-reviewed papers, I’d say it’s the #1 flaw I find in people’s arguments. It seems highly likely to me that people using the iNaturalist data might make these assumptions, and thus derive flawed conclusions from their research. However, even if they don’t, the lack of more descriptive fields and lack of integrity of the iNaturalist data (because let’s be honest, most records in the system, including ones marked “research quality” don’t have people putting care into checking that field, because it’s buried down in the data quality assessment that gets very little use relative to the amount of energy people put into submitting new observations.) is going to severely limit what people can do with it.
And thus, the simplicity and limitations with which iNaturalist currently records this data, are going to show up in research people try to do using their data. And this is going to limit its usefulness.
In the blog post I shared, I gave numerous concrete examples of ways in which the additional information we record on bplant.org could be useful for tracking plant populations, especially in cases that are relevant for conservation purposes.
In my experience, wildness encompasses not only whether or not a plant was planted (or seeded, which is an intermediate case your definition doesn’t mention), whether or not the area it is growing in is maintained and other plants are being weeded, trimmed, or otherwise removed or inhibited, whether or not the plant is a cultivar (and may have altered physical characteristics as a result) vs a genetically-unique wild-type plant, and possibly even other things.
In urban areas, as the OP raises concerns about, an overwhelming majority of plants are going to be “border cases” like this. And of course, more people live and work in these areas, so people reporting the plants closest to where they are naturally spending the most time, they’re going to be mostly running up against these border cases.
I think this illustrates why, in order for the field determining wild vs. non-wild to have more integrity, it’s going to need to be more explicitly spelled out. And I personally think that it’s probably not going to be as simple as making it a single either-or field.
The way we are handling this on bplant.org is to break it into two separate fields. I’m not sure whether or not this is the best way to handle it, but, after considerable thought and discussion with others, including seeing the concerns people have been raising here, I think it is probably at least a slightly better way than how iNaturalist is doing it.
iNaturalist currently has the problem of there not being a clear definition that is well-advertised and easily accessible and clearly displayed to all users before they specify whether or not organisms are wild. And then there is the whole “wild by default”…which leads to huge swaths of observations (just look at Manhattan, NYC) of plants that are clearly not wild, but that haven’t been marked as not wild because only a tiny portion of users ever completes the data quality assessment.
This could be very easily solved by just making the field default to an “unspecified” state and requiring people to explicitly mark organisms as wild.
I think little would be lost by this too because there are many species that are rarely or never cultivated or domesticated and for these, the field could be ignored. It seems like a win-win, a no-brainer to me.