Using iNaturalist for arboretum tree tracking?

I am trying to track unique trees planted in an arboretum-style setting as a ‘mother nursery’ for further tree propagation. In addition to paper records, the folks working on this project want to have a digital way to keep track of these special trees being planted over time.

We’d want the public to be able to access records of special trees in specific locations, to learn details like the tree genus, species, variety, origin, planting date, and misc info (e.g. how it is propagated).

Are there examples of iNaturalist being used for this purpose? I searched around and didn’t find any guides, but some examples:

I am thinking we would setup a project based on a specific location, then we’d setup a guide on how to crowd-source data entry for special trees as they are planted. We would use custom iNaturalist fields to track the unique info I described above, and we’d use Guides to elaborate more about these special trees. This way we have a ‘living record’ of unique trees on this site, a public platform to view and learn about these species, and even ways for the public to comment about species. All of this, alongside the vast educational resource that is iNaturalist. If we need a ‘hard copy’ map of this data, we can export the project records and manipulate them in Google Earth or QGIS.

What do you think, does this sound like a reasonable approach? I’m somewhat new to iNaturalist, are there any tips, tricks, or limitations you think I should know about for this? Does my ‘use case’ bring any existing examples to mind? Thanks!

I don’t know of any examples of projects like this personally, but what you’ve described seems technically feasible in iNat.

The biggest limitation to me is that all of the tree observations that you describe will be considered cultivated/not wild. This means that they’ll need to be ticked as “not wild” (thumbs down for this criterion in the Data Quality Assessment) when uploaded. This will make them Casual Grade (so they won’t be exported to GBIF), etc. You can still collect them in a project, but default filter settings won’t show these observations, so engagement will be less than for observations of wild/free-living organisms.


That’s a good point. If we were not using iNaturalist, these cultivated trees would be even less available for engagement, so I don’t think we’re worried by them being cultivated and not included in the GBIF.

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Traditional project is the way to start this. It sounds pretty possible to accomplish on iNat.

Could you please elaborate on ‘traditional project’? Is that different from starting a Collection Project?

A traditional project requires a person to manually add each observation to the project. A collection project will automatically add observations that meet specified criteria (for example, “vascular plants inside the boundaries of this park” or “birds seen by these 10 users on this date.”) Collection projects are generally easier to use, unless the desired criteria for observation inclusion are too complicated, hard to define, or need extra fine control. For example “birds sitting on appropriate signs” is a real existing project, but obviously iNaturalist programming can’t recognize signs or read what the signs say, so it takes a human to designate appropriate observations.

Another thing to note: it is not possible to remove observations from a collection project, short of editing the criteria. Anything that meets the criteria stays in there. So if for example someone makes observations in your arboretum and then decides they’d rather not participate in the project, there won’t be anything they can do to remove their observations from your project short of deleting them altogether. Or if you want to see just one observation of each individual tree, there would not be a way to stop duplicates from appearing.

A collection project would probably work fine for you as long as your arboretum is a “place” as defined by iNaturalist. If it’s not, you could add it, although the procedure might seem complicated.


To add, as you need specific trees added, you really can’t use collectional project as it will get all the obs that meet criteria added, if not all trees of those taxa in those places are planted, then it would mean wild ones will appear in your project.

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It is possible to set the criteria to captive only. Of course there are a lot of reasons that might not work–for example if you wanted to see captive trees plus some but not all of the wild ones, that that would be too complicated. Or as I said before, if you want just one observation per tree to show on the map, with no duplicates, then that wouldn’t work either. In either of those cases traditional project would be better.

Yeah, but still not all locally cultivated trees can be a focus of a project, if it’s a common to plant species it would mean many excessive ones will get there.

Thank you both for all that helpful info! Traditional projects sound like exactly what we’re looking for - curated species added manually with extra details, and not a lot of ‘noise’ within the project itself, but on iNaturalist to enjoy its various features.

I see I need 50 observations to be able to make a traditional group. Thankfully my team has someone with hundreds of observations but in any case, I better go get observing…!


Seems like a useful application for iNaturalist if the data can be extracted. There are some particularly rare trees that might no longer exist had they not been brought into cultivation—Franklinia and Betula uber quickly come to mind. Are these species multiplying in captivity, or barely maintaining their numbers, or slowly dying out despite our best efforts? A local arboretum here in Lancaster had two healthy Franklinia for many years, then one died without much warning a year or two ago. The loss of that individual made me wonder— how big a loss was this, really? How many of these trees do we have in protective arboretums currently? Fifty? or Hundreds? I can’t say, but this project would move us in the direction of getting a handle on these questions.

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