Wild or Cultivated? How to tell

Reply to Susan Hewitt:
That’s really sad that some people would do that. What I said about them leaving trees, that has been my experience and I’m talking about small local parks.

Comment to everyone:
Which reminds me… Just because a plant has a label (interpretive sign) it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was planted there.

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I would consider prescribed burns to be “major work” but I would not consider the plants that the burns are meant to preserve as being cultivated.

Burns is the last thing I meant in this comment.

Sorry, I was being kind of snarky there. Did you mean things like watering, changing soil pH, or adding fertilizer?

@judyk45 mentioned a lawn, so everything people intentionally do to make the lawn green, if weeds are growing there and you don’t do accent on them when caring take of the place I would say those are wild, but if you like a plant and make sure to pluck other weeds around it, water it specifically, or fertilise it, even if it grew out of wild seed it’s hard to say it’s a fully wild plant.


Hmm… So if I have some wild native plants that came up on their own but I put a border around them, removed invasive weeds inside the border, and maybe put down some leaves that I raked up from outside the border, that I should consider that to be cultivated? What about some wild blueberry bushes where I removed Ilex from around them so they could get more light? I would assume adjusting timing of mowing to promote natives would be like doing prescribed burns.

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It really depends on who you ask. I’ve tagged experts in the past and have gotten nothing, but some are quite reliable. And unfortunately, most are going to refer to the top ids list for the taxon and I’m on that list for Pinus. I get tagged all the time for ids and I can’t help them.

I think not doing something is not the same as doing it, and burns are still kinds of grey area as they’re not targeted at specific specimen on the spot that is burning.
Yes, if you do work like that which greatly helps the plant to grow you can’t say it grew here on its own, it could die long ago but didn’t because you helped it (for example).

Slight change of focus: having read, reread, and meditated on the iNat definition of ‘captive/cultivated’, I’m now wondering whether I should be ‘observing’ any plants at all. It seems easy enough to decide whether an animal or fungus is captive/cultivated, but with plants in the UK, it really feels like a grey area. On the one hand, it will reduce the number of observations for me, and will also leave my curiosity about some plants unsatisfied. On the other, it will avoid skewing data. The grey-est areas for me are riverside/pathside finds, and countryside plants. Usually they yield both the most interesting, and most questionable, specimens. If only there were an ‘can’t tell/don’t know’ option next to the ‘cultivated’ one.


You can say in description that you don’t know and add more photos of general environment around it, in most of cases it’s clear when plant is planted, but you need to know local flora and how planted plants “behave”, the more you do think about what is cultivated the easier it will be for you! Search for signs that it was there originally and not planted or just avoid only confusing situations like small ponds near someone’s house, where big plants could be planted, but smallest or local (or introduced but not used in cultivation) 99% are not.

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Do observe plants. In time you will develop a feeling for ‘wild or not’. And others will chime in. It is not carved in stone - you can always change it if you change your mind. Or - as the discussions unfold we learn how to decide if it this one is wild or planted.

For example https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/68444797


Try to understand which are the most expert users in your area and try to ask them what they think about the wild/cultivated status of a given plant. We are community and I bet that many users would be happy to share what they know.
Then, you will become soon self-sufficient in pinpointing which plants are wild and which are not.

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This whole topic, and indeed its very title, is exactly what Bill McKibben had in mind when he wrote The End of Nature. He foresaw the day when nature (as generations before his understood it) would no longer exist, and subsequent generations would know only partially anthropogenic landscapes which they would think of as “nature.”


Maybe this merits an entirely different discussion, but I’m uncomfortable with the dichotomy that a plant is either “wild” or “cultivated” in the first place. I think there should be a third option entirely for “I don’t know” or “cannot be determined”, either because the observer does not supply that information or does not know themselves.

Here’s one recent example, a research grade observation of Tillandsia usneoides (“spanish moss”, identification not in doubt) that is far outside its natural range, apparently dead on observation, and surely not naturally occurring at this location. This is not “wild” but neither is it “cultivated”; we simply don’t know how it got there: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67747989

Hi @DCTropics, welcome to the iNat Forum. You can review some previous discussions about this topic, as well as the staff responses here:

There are quite a few other existing discussions if you search the forum with keywords like captive / cultivated / wild + grey / gray / third / establish


This is a real problem. We need, need, need to set up “cultivated/captive” as a separate category from casual. And we need to have “needs ID” and “identified” levels within that.


When I Googled “spanish moss stuffing” just now, I saw that packages of dried Spanish moss are available from, among other sources, Michael’s and Etsy. I wouldn’t have paid this any more mind than I do the random pistachio seed shells I come across.

Yes, sometimes there is some uncertainty in ascertaining if something is wild or not, and this is especially true for plants. This uncertainty is often mainly due to the lack of experience of the viewers and/or the lack of some photos of the surrounding environments/inaccuracy of the position. On the other hand, experts who know well the flora of a given area, in most cases, can ascertain the wild/cultivated status of a plant.
But put yourself in the shoes of those who exclusively need or want to display observations of organisms that are certainly wild. Adding the third category “not determined” would just keep these users from displaying observations of only wild organisms. This unless there would be the possibility to filter also this third category as “not certainly wild”.

Not sure if this is the right place to post, but I had to write it somewhere

Two suggestions:

  1. Change the definition of “Cultivated”. Instead of “planted”, which leads to a lot of guesswork and many complaints, make a time limit. e.g. “Has the plant been tended (watering, pruning, weeding, etc) within the past year?” Or past 5 years, or longer.
  2. Make “Captive/cultivated” Casual instead of RG, rather than Casual instead of Needs ID. Captive/cultivated organisms should still be marked as such, but should remain Needs ID. When there is a community consensus on ID, such as would make a wild observation Research Grade, the observation moves into Casual instead. This way people posting cultivated plants looking for an ID would get one, and the rest of us can stop worrying about it. Identifiers who don’t want to deal with Captive/cultivated obs can just filter for wild-only.

As the conceited fool that I am, I think these suggestions could majorly improve iNat. I might make a feature request, but for now I’ll just see what @inat_staff thinks. Don’t hate me for this, iNat staff!

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