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

there’s been lots of debate over which words are best to use. The iNat definition as relevant here doesn’t match the dictionary definition perfectly, but no one has really come up with a different word that people like better. I think it might work to just have it always say ‘did humans put it there’ but i’m sure others would disagree


The simplest solution would be to stay with the answer to the question - is it wild?

NOT wild

Cultivated or captive, slides off to a different aspect.

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One issue which folks seem to overlook is that the distinction of wild vs. not wild is a false dichotomy. It omits “cannot be determined”. The default is wild. You have to select not wild. Many observations are impossible to determine (with various degrees of confidence)–even by the original observer who might be a professional biologist. Walk up to any tree in the woods and prove to me that it wasn’t planted by a person. Same for a spotted dove observed in a tree in the U.S. So, we have two types of error: 1) having an organism which is actually wild marked as captive, or 2) having an organism which is actually captive marked as wild. Which of the two types of error are most common on iNat? The latter, I suspect. From the perspective of the value of the iNat data set for use in practical applications or research, there are lots of captive/cultivated observations incorrectly marked as wild that must be dealt with in ways that vary depending on how the data is to be used.

The most abundant users of iNat are individuals who don’t bother to check the “not wild” box and who don’t even know that there’s a difference between wild and not wild. So it’s up to the rest of us to fret over having to make that determination from the context of the photo. If it’s not possible to make that determination, we’re forced to decide between wild and not wild because “cannot be determined” isn’t an option. Because of this, from a practical data management standpoint, the designation of “wild” is in actuality “cannot be determined” since it’s the default value and the most common source of error. If a bird is in a cage, we know it’s captive. But if a bird is in a tree, it might be an escaped captive individual or wild (we cannot make that determination). Same goes for cultivated vs. non-cultivated. Is this Salvia gregii cultivated or wild?

I’ll note that when indicating sex, “cannot be determined” is an option in addition to “male” and “female”, and the default is undetermined.


Maybe there should be an option for “nonbinary.” :grin:

Yes, theoretically everything could be planted but, in practice, there are very few cases of plants for which their wild status is debatable, especially in comparison with those for which the common sense would suggests that they are wild. This also depends on the taxon (is it commonly cultivated in that area or does it grow there just as a wild species?) and on the environment (is it a virgin area or highly anthropized?).
To be frank, these discussions on wild/non wild organisms are interesting because many users are providing examples of “grey area cases” but I have started to feel that we are splitting hairs.

But why not considering non-wild as a default option what could be likely be non-wild but, in that particular case, could hardly (or not at all) be determined? We have tons of observations that are certainly wild.
The “cannot be determined” option would be consistent with the other parameter you mentioned (sex) but I am afraid that it could turn out to be detrimental for obtaining unequivocal data unless also the “undetermined” observations would fall among the casual ones.


It is probably going to be easier to undo the listening to the discussion than to undo someone else’s discussion of the discussion.

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Honestly, I’ve settled the tree debate for myself. If I don’t know whether the tree was planted or not, I mark it wild. Where I’m from, there are old farm lands and abandoned communities. Where my parents are from, there was strip mining. The old farm land/former towns may have trees that were planted, or the trees may have grown up afterward. Some of the areas with strip mines were replanted with trees, but it has been years, so at this point, I’m sure there are also wild trees. My dad had 3 acres of forested land. I haven’t seen it since the 70s. We planted native trees among wild trees. In all these cases, I could not tell you what was planted and what was not. So, wild.


A good example of planted park spaces are the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park where the CCC replanted native plants along the roads and around formal vista parking after construction. Now we are pushing 100 years later and some are still living but most have reproduced in various ways. Those areas continue to be “groomed” by cutting back overhanging trees and mowing. So which ones are technically cultivated and which are wild? To determine their age requires more work than it is worth (unless that is your thing) - we know that size depends on microclimates as much as age. I mark them was wild (gone wild?) unless the tree or shrub is attended by maintenance staff at the visitors centers.

Well, it isn’t how you are supposed to do it, but i doubt anyone is going to find and flag them based on that. Why not just add smaller, younger trees? It is more ecologically relevant to document the spreading individuals anwyay


I do feel like trees are already observed way out of sync with how common they are (based on inat observations, you might think it would be pretty hard to find a fir in Yellowstone, for example) so any improvement in the mapping of them is useful for the ability to be able to tell what kind of forest you are dealing with at a glance

i agree, but i feel it is important to follow the guidelines as they are stated, and it is pretty clearly stated in the guidelines that a tree that has been planted doesn’t become wild later in life even if it gets quite old. here are grey areas because we often don’t know if a tree is planted or not, but if we do know if it is planted i don’t think it should ever be marked as wild.


I think it’s the guidelines that need to change. Sure, as long as they stay this way you shouldn’t pretend they’re different, but the rule about trees needing to have seeded naturally to be wild is ridiculous. I see the reasoning behind it, but still. A tree that was planted 100 years ago, then abandoned, had plenty of opportunities to die in the intervening years. Since it didn’t, it seems reasonable to call it wild. I think there should be a time limit (say, 1, 5 or 10 years) after which a plant should be considered wild if it received no care from humans during that time.

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Or it was just planted in a good spot, in no time of tree life human actions with it become irrelevant.


You’re right that some trees do survive due to the care they received, even years afterward, and we have no way of knowing what the crucial factor was. However, I think it is likely that in the majority of grey-area cases, it is more useful to assume plants are wild than assume they are cultivated.

But grey area is where you can’t know, here person says they do know they’re planted, I think in this case they should be marked, this also will make this data more useful to e.g. compare it with wild ones nearby or study what lives on it.

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I understood the comment you were replying to as referring to a gray area where it isn’t reasonably possible to tell an individual 100 year old planted tree from a coexisting population of 90 year old wild ones. In which case I don’t see it as really having a measurable impact on overall site data quality to just guess it is wild.

Is it really true that the smaller spreading trees are more ecologically relevant? I guess they are important for accelerating wildfires, but other than that the idea that a 10 year old tree is more valuable than a 100 year old tree seems inherently weird, perhaps outside the logging industry.

In terms of ecological inventory it does absolutely matter if something was planted snd not naturalized because plants will often grow well beyond their natural range if planted. But if not naturalizing and reproducing they don’t move around or interact with the ecosystem as fully as a naturalized population. That doesn’t mean the data shouldn’t be added to iNat but it’s important to have a way to distinguish that data. If anything the way planted trees are tracked could be treated differently than it is now but it makes the data a lot less useful if it’s not distinguished.

That being said in these edge cases when you can’t tell for sure, it’s fine not to mark it as captive.

I’ll leave it at that because I’ve made much longer posts in the past about this and don’t need to repeat them


I totally disagree @fluffyinca. For reasons that @charlie has gone into. This has been discussed to death and I don’t think keeping on finding corner cases is adding anything substantial to the discussion.


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