When is a plant no longer considered "cultivated?"

I’ve lived on our rural property that was built in the early 1950s for 20 years now. I inherited a lot of lovely perennials when we moved here. These flowers return year after year after year, and many varieties have escaped what used to be their tended gardens. I simply let them grow, enjoy their presence, and let them die back - year after year. I do not prune, water, fertilize, divide, or care for them in any way. At what point are these plants no longer considered “cultivated?” When I post them to iNaturalist, do I still mark them as cultivated, or are they now wild?


So I have made a thread with a similar concept, because I’ve but heads with quite a few people on here about whether or not a plant is cultivated or not (my favorite being the poison hemlock that seeded itself into a pot that someone thought was cultivated). https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/should-organisms-in-novel-microhabitats-that-proliferate-on-their-own-be-marked-captive/10529 . Context is really important here.

If they’re reseeding on their own and spreading and you’re truly not maintaining them, they’re wild. If it’s something like a boxwood or azalea or a tree someone planted long ago and you’ve ceased maintenance of it but it’s not spreading, it’s still cultivated. At my school there are many planted Cercidiphyllum japonicum trees that aren’t maintained in the slightest. But they were planted so I would mark as cultivated. Their offspring, however, are wild. The parents may have been introduced, but the spread is on their own.


For perennials they stay “cultivated” for their whole life, but if you may find their offspring it will be considered wild, for annuals it’s for you to decide.


What about garden plants growing out of garden waste (old soil) somebody dumped illegally into the landscape? These were neither planted nor grow at that location intentionally, and sometimes it is impossible to tell whether they got there naturally or not. I usually mark them “wild”, but I am never sure.


This has been widely discussed on the forum. I highly suggest a quick search for “cultivated” and a reading of those topics before adding new posts. The search can be conducted using the icon in the upper right of the screen.

Agree with melodi , plants that were put there retain that history but volunteers on the other side of the property? wild. Some of this is a gray area in practice and sometimes hotly debated on the forum though this is what iNat itself has to say:


Did someone plant it there on purpose? Then it’s cultivated. Did it get there on its own, or hitching a ride? Then it’s wild. Planted perennials remain cultivated as long as they live. Their offspring, though, can be wild.


I am also curious as to what people think about this issue: garden plants growing out of garden waste (old soil) that somebody dumped illegally into the landscape.

Wild or not wild?

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Thank you everyone for your help.


I’ve seen this. I consider them wild, but introduced. They grew on their own and are contending with all the stuff that other plants do. All of the introduce European (and other) organisms are also now wild and introduced. That’s my rule of thumb!


I wouldn’t blame a plant because it was part of garden waste that a human dumped illegally. It’s wild.

As I have participated in the Socially Distant BioBlitzes, I’ve been documenting things growing in my Dad’s yard. My parents bought the property 60 years ago and for a time Dad had a vegetable garden with a few ornamentals, but it’s been a while since he gardened (he’s over 90 now). For a while a neighbor hooked him up with a lawn service, but that got expensive (and noisy!), so I bought a mower and my brother and I take care of it now. Some of the plants I’ve observed are “cultivated” varieties and Dad might have planted their ancestors 30 years ago, but they are certainly “feral” by now. If my memory is correct these “gifts of nature” aren’t where their grandplants were purposefully planted.

To sum up, I would call them wild.

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I would consider them wild too.


I would tend to think of plants growing directly out of dumped garden waste as not wild. A person intentionally put the material where they dumped it. They grew from the spot they are growing in because a human put the plant material, roots, seeds, etc. in that spot. If more plants grow from seeds from the first generation of plants that came directly out of the dumped material, then I would consider them wild. It may then be a judgement call whether you think the plants you see are second generation or not.


I consider a native species that is grown in a yard, cultivated, of course.

I agree, if planted once by a person, then cultivated. This becomes a matter of deductive reasoning when encountering 100 year old Monterey Cypress not growing in their few native groves. From what I understand, homesteaders long ago often planted them. That’s why I see them all over out of their range. But, not everyone would know they are planted, so we could forgive this.

It doesn’t much matter beyond iNaturalist because Botanists I’m sure understand what is cultivated, an escaped cultivar, or a waif.

More accurately, seeds that propagate on their own, but eventually their lineage doesn’t travel far, and dies out, is a waif.

Other species have escaped cultivation and are considered escaped cultivars and often considered invasive. Not all escapes are very invasive.

Even if you took a wild native plant from a wild piece of land, and brought it home, it is now captive, I think! But don’t do that unless you have permission from the land owner, of course.

But yeah, cultivate means you took care of it, or someone once did.


Maybe you didn’t mean to reply to me but you and I are in agreement. Saying the same thing.

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That is my situation here. I have a variety of narcissus and day lily species growing in the roadside ditch and in the woods… hibiscus and lilac shrubs growing absolutely everywhere… Asian bleeding heart plants growing in the woods and up through cracks in our back deck.

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I have the advantage of documenting plants on the property my parents bought in 1959, so I pretty much know what was planted where, on purpose. But 20 years is a pretty long time for some species. The shrubs are likely “cultivated” in the sense that a previous resident put them there on purpose, which is my guiding principle. Something growing through cracks in a deck or pavement are likely feral, or to use a more botanist-like term, “self-propagating.”

We used to have daylilies. A clump in a place that looks like it was intentional would still be cultivated in my book, even if successive generations of daylily have grown there.

Despite what someone else commented, anything in a ditch or trash heap is no longer cultivated IMHO. What’s the polar opposite of planted on purpose? It seems somebody actively tried to kill it!

At least that’s what I’m going with. I’m kind of new here so my definition of wild vs. cultivated may evolve.


Consider the task of creating a local vascular plant checklist.

– Is it native?
Beware – many native plants were planted, especially in re-greening projects. Sometimes the wrong native plants are used (e.g. a patch of Swamp White Oak in North Bay, Ontario along a bike path, when Bur Oak should have been used. Swamp White Oak is native to southern Ontario but not as far north as North Bay)

– Is it non-native?
The line between a non-native and an escaped cultivated plant is fuzzy. I have encountered discarded cultivated plants in certain places. I defer to the Ontario Plant Checklist. If it isn’t on that list I discard the species from my list.

– Is it cultivated?
A few species on my plant checklist are uncertain because of the difficulty of determining if the location is indeed off someone’s property. To include Orange Daylily was a difficult choice.

– Has it been identified correctly?
With a few hundred species on the list with only a couple of records, trusting that the ID were correct can be hard to determine.

Personally I am working on a second edition for North Bay and Area as I have the data from the MNRF. Current species total is 839, but it will be a bit smaller by the time I finish.



And potentially invasive. Not kindly cultivated.

All interesting things to consider when deciding if a plant is wild or cultivated. (Maybe we need a third middle ground. Feral? Escaped? Run amok? Or the more scientific sounding “self-propagated”?)

I was doing some identifying this afternoon (because it’s colder today in NYC than it was when I started iNatting in March!), mostly on Unknowns. It reminded me of this from the Help page:

Observations are the basic units of iNaturalist. An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location.

So for my own Observations I will be inclined to look at the individual plant rather than its species, although the two cannot be completely separated–as in “How did this get here?”

Identifying Unknowns also called my attention to one rule that is as near to absolute as any: If a plant is in a pot, it’s 99.9999999% likely it’s cultivated.


Sounds like they’re spreading on their own. Not just wild, but invasive! Daylillies that grow in ditches definitely are.