Trees that were planted, but growing "in wild", should be considered "wild", and additional "grade" for "grey zone" is required

Inspired by the recent discussion where user was proposing to add third category between “wild” and “cultivated” because of the sequoias that were planted 150 years ago and now growing in the wild forests. It would not work that way, but I can agree that it seems to be wrong to put observations of ancient trees in nature to the same category with random selfies and photos of food.

First of all, photos of trees in natural habitats, especially when these trees are dominating or even defining for the habitat, has scientific and “naturalistic” value. These observations are making other observations around more valuable as, for example, I can check what is growing around some observation of a snail to have more context or even grounds for more precise ID.

Secondly, how even someone supposed to know if tree was planted if now it’s growing in the forest that seem to be completely wild? To submit request in a local forestry agency before adding observation? If history of those sequoias would not be very well-known nobody would figure it out that these trees were planted.

Thirdly, it’s clearly not fair and uneven comparing to the animal observations considered “wild” for iN. Why a “feral dog” that was born captive and run away is “wild” after several months being outdoors and a tree that was growing 150 years in nature is not? Some people even adding backstories to their observations of chickens, how they escape and were runaway for few days, so their observation could be not “casual”, and this is considered better for iN than ancient sequoia growing in nature!

Otherwise a requirement for animals to be “born wild” should be added.

It requires no technical changes, only descriptions of what is considered wild or cultivated should be changed. For example, something like “tree that was planted, but now growing in what seems to be a wild forest without direct care from humans”.

I would also argue that additional “grade” is required for “grey zone”, some “middle grade” or “naturalist grade”, not only for disputable cases of wild/not wild, but even more for observations with low accuracy of data that now considered RG and giving low-quality data to GBIF. Perhaps it could be something that someone, or only curators, could just mark being not good enough for RG, and maybe to put there automatically all observations with accuracy of coordinates below 1 km or at least 10 km. But these obs should be equally visible as RG and “needs ID”, so people would stop trying to made their observations being RG.


I’ve noticed this as well in that there are may trees that were planted as a part of historical homesteads, yet since then the homesteads have been completely reclaimed by wilderness and secondary growth forest has overtaken it. Yet the original trees are still there. The only way to tell that the trees were ever artificially planted is to look at old photographs, see if the trees are planted in artificial lines, or if the trees are something that really shouldn’t be growing in the wild.

With sequoias, redwoods, and a few other trees and plants, a big factor in not considering them wild is despite the fact the adults are growing free in the wilderness, they often times cannot successfully reproduce without human assistance. Thus, those trees are the only ones that will ever be in that area, and the population is not self-sustaining.


A dog is wild and a tree isn’t because trees don’t move, it’s always going to stay where humans put it, whereas a dog is free to move around.

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And isn’t this just the same topic as

It’s clearly not about movement, environment is changing around that tree. And it’s clearly not the same topic, as I’m not proposing to add additional category between wild and captive.

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That’s what the other thread proposed, too.

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It seemed in other forum discussions many including staff prefer not to add any categories representing “gray” areas. For simplicity/understandability there’s value in not adding less-specific category definitions vs. what already exist.

That said, some issues raised are valid. Considerations that continue to arise in these discussions are:

Does the main status of the organism over it’s lifetime matter? For example, when it’s longer past or future differ significantly from it’s current status. i.e., taking into account time vs. only the present.

Does whether an organism can become established and spread in the wild or not matter? i.e., taking into account ecology/reproductive generation/genetics.

My view is a balance is needed between simplicity on the one hand (wild vs. cultivated/captive), and the optimal level of additional detail/classification to add. But a caveat I suggest, is I view any additional categories / checkboxes to add as additional aspects to check off or categories/subcategories to use under or in combination with existing ones, vs. alternatives to wild, not wild, native, or introduced.

The relevance or value is it’s far more feasible to add new additional boxes which don’t negate/override existing ones. Also by doing so, the default iNat Explore/map and Identify search results can only include some categories (like they do currently), unless otherwise manually specified. And in this way there’s no concern that wild, not wild, native, or introduced data will become “ruined” or made misleading by the additions in search results. Any additions may be best to not show in default-filter searches (so nothing changes there).

I also agree that in general, plants such as trees planted and the changes that they undergo, are one of the largest possible gray areas (not how to currently classify them, but re: should any reclassification/subcategorization be now made for them).

The environment changing is irrelevant. The tree is where humans intended it to be. That’s the definition of captive, right in the site’s help section:

“Checking captive / cultivated means that the observation is of an organism that exists in the time and place it was observed because humans intended it to be then and there. Likewise, wild / naturalized organisms exist in particular times and places because they intended to do so (or because of intention of another wild organism).”

And, right in the examples of captive/cultivated:

" tree planted 1, 10, or 100 years ago by humans"


Then you can say, for example, that Yellowstone National Park is where people intended it to be, so everything is not wild there. If someone intentionally put some species in other region and it lives and reproduce here it is where humans intended it to be, but considered wild under iN rules. So it’s not about intention either.

I agree to some extent that some obs. could be “excluded” or moved to a “frass” area (the term uses). Although, this seems a lot different from the main topic, so unsure it will be discussed much here. Edit: I see some existing forum topics on this, so far staff didn’t seem to prefer pursuing it.

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It’s true this definition can be “overreached” if one so chooses. I’ve heard people argue that as soon as a plant is seen by a human and not pulled out of the ground it is automatically captive, as now a person intended it to be there. This is not a very good interpretation and obviously not the one the iNat devs had intended. However, it is very clear from that example I provided straight from the iNat help page that a planted tree is cultivated. End of story.

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Right, when someone proposing to change the rules the best argument in response is to said “but the rules are not in agreement with that”


I don’t think you ever specifically said that this was proposed rule change, so it wasn’t clear to me.

The current wild/cultivated rules (at least for plants) are currently perfect for what iNat is trying to be. As the rules currently are, there are no gray areas. Any plant is either wild or captive. This means plants are (usually) easy to sort into one of these new states. This is in contrast to animals, where there are tons of gray areas and nearly constant arguments about when an animal is wild or not. This does not happen with plants, as the concept of “planted or not” is easy for even new users to comprehend. Adding any more states (at least as far as plants are concerned) is just asking for confusion and misuse.


Plant people, would like another category for introduced / naturalised.
Is it wild or was it planted - is not always blindingly obvious.


The current system is imperfect, but I think both of these recent proposed changes muddy the waters without providing a compensating benefit. Whether a tree was planted by people is something one may or may not know in a particular case, but a relatively unambiguous fact that could be known. Whether or not a particular site qualifies as a “natural habitat” or “wild” is subjective and complicated. Different people with access to identical and arbitrarily complete information about the landscape would arrive at different conclusions. I would not call an abandoned homestead “wilderness”, but @russell_engelman would.

Also, no action is needed to make an observation visible or available. Captive / cultivated observations certainly can be useful, and anyone wanting to use them can easily do so. Just search observations and click the box to include captive / cultivated observations.


Just speaking as a curator and project manager for Los Angeles Biodiversity, no one seems to ever check that box when entering data, so I’m not sure what benefit would be accrued from adding still more categories (if they’re ignoring basic ones, like produce at the supermarket, or potted plants on a deck).

But I hear your point about ecological function. Isn’t that something that could be vetted by each researcher, though? All planted elements are functioning “as part of nature” immediately, even if the details of such aren’t obvious to us.


If an artificial forest is suficiently old, there will almost certainly be young trees in the undergrowth born from seeds of the planted trees. The solution is to simply inat these young plants, as they are considered wild, instead of the trees planted originally. I’ve done this multiple times when inatting in reforestated areas

I don’t think a third option would be functional or really useful

I’d also add that there are currently already thousands of planted trees observations in urban environments that were not marked as wild by the observer and just stay there, often even reaching research grade, and fixing all these would take a nearly impossible amount of effort
Despite those trees playing a part in the urban ecosistem, i think they should be casual anyway because they completely screw up distributional data for the species at a wild level. Trees used in urbal landscaping are often not autochtonous, and even when a species is broadly cultivated in a certain area it doesn’t necessarily mean it has naturalized and started to grow wild, so they create a lot of bad data

All this to say that, personally, i don’t think a few potentially useful obs of planted trees being made casual is a great loss. On the other hand there are way more wrongly research grade ones


Speaking to the second item mentioned in the original post. How is someone supposed to know if a particular tree was planted or sprouted on its own accord? You don’t. It’s not a dicotomy where the choices are (1) this tree was planted by humans and (2) this tree was not planted by humans. The true dicotomy is (1) I know that this tree was planted by humans and (2) this tree may or may not have sprouted on its own accord. There can be evidence or knowledge of a tree having been planted, but there can be no evidence or knowledge of the opposite. Any one tree in a forest could be there because someone pulled a seed out of their pocket and stuck it in the ground. iNat defaults to “wild” if the box is not checked, but this conveys a false sense that it is known with any confidence that it is indeed wild. In practical reality, the true dicotomy must be as I described above.

Speaking to the third issue: it being unfair or uneven comparing plant designation of cultivated with animal designations of captive because animals can move and plants cannot. Why do we need this to be a fair or even comparison? It just isn’t and it shouldn’t be expected because the types of evidence are different. No dataset or study will be negatively impacted because of this difference in our ability to make these judgments in animals vs. plants. A dog on a leash or a cat sitting in someone’s lap in their apartment are clearly captive–and thus that box can be checked. A dog or cat in the woods cannot be determined to be wild (out there surviving on it’s own) or recently escaped from captivity–and thus that box cannot be checked.


Not being able to tell whether trees are planted or not shouldn’t cause a mass dismissal of that classification. Sometimes “planted” trees sneak through and earn wild grade because there’s no reason to tell. The fact that it can be used to filter sightings is incredibly useful, even if it’s not all-inclusive. The more planted examples recognized as planted, the better.

It’s not about whether they are naturally at home, or persisting. The point of that data check is to determine if they are “naturally occurring”, which is not the case if they are planted.


Introduced/naturalized isn’t something that typically would be marked for an individual observation. That is usually handled by the range maps for the taxon.