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

No matter how many categories and subcategories you add, you will ALWAYS have corner cases and uncertainty.

I think the current system works and is pretty simple, at least for plants. Did someone put it there? Not wild. Did it grow there spontaneously, on its own? Wild. Yes, there are nuances and many shades of grey. This will always be so.

There have been quite a few threads discussing this already. I don’t supprort additional categories because they will make the system harder to use and still fail to account for all cases.


It’s not unusual for this topic to appear but it’s a bit strange to have two variants of the subject in play at the same time.

Anybody who thinks they’re offering something new should go read this topic from a year ago and this one from earlier this year. or (if you really want to be sure you’ve considered every nuance) all the stuff here. If you’re concerned you’re missing something do that search with wild/captive in case there are some unique threads focussed on animals. This subject has been beaten to death repeatedly, which I guess makes it a zombie topic.

When I first signed on to iNat the Captive/Cultivated thing bothered me a bunch for two related reasons. In the first instance, the logic of Captive and Cultivated are different and putting them together creates confusion. The second is that the logic of cultivated versus wild is anti-ecological. Eventually I got over both when I understood better that there are legacy issues with this stuff that make fixing the logic problematic and that it anyway doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Happy reading y’all.


That’s a good thing to do everywhere out of real wilderness! Just look for small ones and you’ll be able to map species pretty well.

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There are edge cases for plants that spread from cultivated beds. Say my lilac bush sends out a vegetative underground shoot under the property line that separates my neighbor’s yard from mine. My neighbor neglects his yard, and a new lilac bush grows from this shoot. After a few years there is a new, large shrub a few meters from mine. I mow my lawn, and with the passing years the shrubs appear distinct. I then sever the underground shoot.

Is the shrub on my neighbor’s property wild for iNaturalist’s purposes?

If this seems contrived, consider that several invasive species chiefly spread vegetatively.

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With vegetative spreading it’s safe to assume that the bigger is distance between new shoot and mother plant more likely ecologically it is presented as a separate plant. There’re many observations of Rosa or Syringa growing in metre from main plant and they’re marked as wild, but in fact they’re connected to the planted one, from experience of looking at observations, if it’s not one with original bush it’s not part of it for iNat. Especially when e.g. bush grows, covering big territory.

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To clarify what I meant by an abandoned homestead, I meant abandoned like 150 years or more out. Specifically, I was thinking of a locality that I have visited that is currently in the middle of a major park. The park is currently managed as a wild space and would otherwise be seen as such, except for the fact that there is a straight line of dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) growing in the middle of nowhere deep in the park where few go.

This suggests that the dawn redwoods must have been planted some time ago and the forest subsequently went through ecological succession until the area was indistinguishable from the rest of the forest; the redwoods are surrounded by mature trees and there are no traces of human habitation anywhere. If someone had planted oaks or some native tree I don’t think anyone would have noticed they were artificially planted.

Just wanted to clarify, I didn’t mean anything like an abandoned, overgrown house, but an area that has become rewilded to a degree that everything directly human-created except the trees planted long, long ago is gone.


As a scientist who has often analyzed data sets gathered by other people, one of the worst things you can do to the usefulness of a dataset is change the definitions of the terms half way though but keep using the same terms. This is why scientists are free to determine the meaning of the term they are using (there are thousands of definitions of what a species is, or what a gene is) but are strongly discouraged from changing their definition of terms mid-study. It would be profoundly unwise to change what we mean by wild or captive at this point, even if the definitions used up until now could be shown to be objectively inferior to some other proposed definitions. Could you add a box that says, “The definitions of captive vs wild don’t fit neatly to this observation?” Sure. Would people go back and apply that in the same way to past observations as future observations? Very unlikely. The horse being beaten here is not only long dead but also stillborn.


Yes, there is a certain naturalistic and even scientific value in photographing, for example, afforestations in a given area. At least because they are a demonstration of the landscape management that has been done in the past years.

Afforestations and reforestations are often made up of trees all of a similar age and, unfortunately, often belonging to species that are alien to that area.
Aerial and satellite photos can be useful to evaluate if in a given wooden area there were no trees up to some decades ago.

It is a possibility

In the case of few or even isolated trees it is more difficult to ascertain its cultivated status but a skilled botanist could try to shed light on it.

I wouldn’t bet on it. Do not underestimate the skills of an expert.

A possible explanation: because a feral dog can move and have effects on a wild environment. A planted species is cultivated in a given area and not wild until it succeeds in producing an offspring.
NB: the age of a planted plant shoukld not be taken into account to ascertain its possible wild status.

I agree, a chicken that is temporarily escaped should not be considered wild.

Just my point of view but for me it should not be changed.

it’s still a cultivated tree. In the case, its offspring should be considered wild.

“Grey zone observations” often need to be carefully examined and could require the point of view os someone who is an expert of that given area or of a given species.

I agree that very imprecise observations provide somehow poor informations and low-quality data but it is something off-topic.


We see something similar here. Where an abandoned farm has become part of a national park. No house, no walls, but clearly there was once a field here, and those oaks and palms.

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It’s entirely possible that if I were familiar with this particular case I’d agree with you. But there’s certainly a wide range of opinion. At one extreme, there are people who think anything more than a mile from a Starbucks is the remotest wilderness–I’m being facetious, of course, but I’m also certain that there are real people who do in fact hold that opinion! I suppose I’m closer to the other extreme, and have thought that most of the federal wildernesses I’ve been to aren’t particularly wild until you get a few miles in. In any case, the point is: planted vs. not has gray areas, wild vs. not has far more. The situation won’t become clearer by shifting the criterion from planted vs. not to wild vs. not.


In the case of an old tree growing in a wild forest without human care, but I know was originally planted by humans, I would leave it as marked wild but with a note in the description about its origin. The purpose of the captive/cultivated designation is to prevent the inat data from being filled with people’s pets and garden plants.

The problem with the captive/cultivated vs. wild dichotomy is that things in real life don’t respect the dichotomy.

For example, it’s common to have landscaped areas that are intentionally planted with native plants in order to attract native wildlife.

Heck, the ecological value of non-wild individuals is pretty significant. A set of intentionally-planted native trees/shrubs/grasses/wetland plants gradually becomes integrated into the ecosystem. When do they stop being non-wild and start being wild? When do the sea oats I helped put into the local beach stop being non-wild?

Not to mention, this is how many invasive species got their “invasion” started. Someone thought it was a great idea to plant Brazilian pepper, and then the birds loved it and spread it everywhere. Some folks thought they didn’t want their pet red-eared sliders anymore, and they dumped them into lakes and canals and now they established a population.

FWIW, right now the criterion basically seems to be “does it look too neat to be wild”.


I will never consider a plant that a modern human planted as “wild”, even if it is a of a native species planted 200 years ago, in its natural habitat, and in its natural range. I believe the definition of “wild” is that which the forces of nature put where it is, and not that which modern humans put where it is. I also believe Homo sapiens was both “wild” and “natural”, and a “native species” where we lived before the first agriculturalists lived. I believe that the allegorical tale of Able, and Cain, told of this change away from us being “wild”, and from our work being “natural”, after agriculture, as well as telling of the degradation of the natural beauty and biodiversity of the planet after that. It also tells of the degradation of the quality of life for many humans after that, and before what I have dubbed “C-evilization”. If a plant were moved to a new place by a human, 50,000 years ago, before the first domestication of the first animal (widely thought to be the dog), and before shepherding and farming started changing the world, leading to a monetary system that I believe changed it more, I might count that plant moved to that new place by that early human as “natural”, and “wild”.

While a whole species can’t be considered “native” in a place they only got to because modern humans brought them there, members of a species introduced into new areas by modern humans, species that are naturalized, that is they have established self-sustaining populations there, after modern humans brought them there, can be considered “wild” there. It is the forces of nature that allowed those naturalized species to spread, and establish those populations in those new areas. While those species that were introduced into a new area by modern humans, and became naturalized there, remain “introduced”, “non-native”, or “alien” there, their members can now be called “wild” there. For these introduced species iNaturalist has an exclamation mark, if someone adds a note to the checklist for that area, that it was introduced there by modern humans.

Just as members of an introduced, and naturalized, species can be called “wild”, because they spread to where they are by the forces of nature, it is understandable that iNaturalist would call “wild” the offspring of a human planted plant, offspring that the forces of nature allowed to be moved to where they are now, and to grow where they are now. If it wasn’t the first self-seeded plant that iNaturalist considered “wild”, where should they draw the line, and how is anyone likely to know, if that line were set at a different point.

That said, I might consider the naturally spreading descendants of a human planted plant, “more natural”, and more “wild”, with every generation they reproduced there, and spread from there, without any additional help from humans. In my efforts towards “re-wilding”, I have focused on using more rapidly reproducing plants, such as annuals, and biennials, so the surface planted by the parent plants, with their descendants, can be more “wild”, more quickly, and that surface area can grow more quickly. At the same time, the early death of the annuals and biennials I planted, will allow that surface area to be covered with “wild” plants more quickly.

When I see a dot on an iNaturalist map that is treated as “wild” I want to know that it was the work of the forces of nature that put that plant, animal, or fungus there. I don’t want to think it was put there by the work of modern humans.


Can we please stop discussing corner cases and grey areas?

It really doesn’t move the conversation along, has been discussed to death, and we all can think of some if we want to.


Honestly, I’ve stopped worrying about the tree dilemma. If I don’t know for certain that it has been planted, I go with wild. If I’ve seen the tree planted or I know it was, I don’t bother adding it to iNat.

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This subject is to the forum what Gerald (don’t click on this if you have bandwidth issues) is to iNat. It just keeps going and going and going and going no matter how many times the reasons for the categories are explained.

Clearly, the question of what’s wild and what’s not is something people care about. A lot.


Does it mean, that almost every tree in European forests should be marked as “culivated”? That’s the case - forestry in large parts of Europe has used forest tree nurseries and planting trees since at least 19th century.

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As an ecologist, i always differentiate between if a tree was planted or is naturally occurring… if i know, of course. Often we do not. We do the best we can. But, from the data end it’s important that the definition of ‘wild’ remain as it is and not be changed to include old planted trees. I think instead, iNat could change how planted things are tracked. I would like an annotation to differentiate planted and uncared for plants from tended landscaping, but marking untended planted trees as wild certainly doesn’t achieve that.


Mature ones - yes, sure, it’s the question asked many times before, you can easily just observe young trees that grew by themselve or go to parts of forests where people didn’t do intentional reforesting, they surely exist, so it’s far from almost every tree.

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Yes, it does.