Wild vs cultivated for escaped garden plants

When does a garden escapee become wild? For example I have a large patch of Lamium galeobdolon argentatum over my septic field. It started from a piece of the plant that was still alive in a hanging planter arrangement that my neighbour discarded on our property line. It has since taken over the disturbed area over my septic field. Is still considered cultivated? I certainly don’t want it and I’m doing the opposite of caring for it. I’ve read a lot of the previous posts on similar topics but they have left me even more confused. Is an escaped garden plant cultivated or wild?


I hope this topic doesn’t also end up down the rabbit hole of confusion too :melting_face:

Anyway, my best interpretation that I believe aligns with the guidelines is as follows; if a plant was initially planted and has re-seeded, the initial plant would be cultivated and the new plants wild. Vegetative reproduction is not as straightforward but I think the best rule of thumb would be if a plant vegetatively reproduces and if those parts were severed from the cultivated plant they would be able to survive (i.e. have their own root systems etc), I would consider them wild. A single bush that has grown in height/width throughout the years would still be considered captive. All of these examples are provided there was no human intervention (though the last is captive either way).

My point on vegetatively-reproduced plants may spawn some debate and there are reasonable arguments to be made for both sides. Unless an offshoot is detached from the mother plant it can be difficult to determine whether it has a sufficient root system or otherwise to survive.

Overall I wouldn’t stress it too much, follow the guidelines as close as possible and in fringe cases go with your gut. There are many captive plants being submitted as wild as every day so just being conscious and marking plants as such is a huge help.


If the plant is in a location because humans intended for it to be there, then it is cultivated. If it is in a place humans did not intend for it to be, then it is not cultivated. At this point, I would consider the plant to be “wild” or “feral.” Unless it was dumped with the intention of causing it to spread onto your property, then it exists in a location not intended by humans.

“Wild,” in a loose sense:

  1. Seeds from a plant carried in by trucks or trains establish in an area they are not native.
  2. A garden plant is dug up by a wild animal and dropped, the plant managing to become established in the area it was dropped.
  3. Weeds in a greenhouse accidentally transported with other species.


  1. Plants in a garden, planted by previous or current owners.
  2. Planted individuals not cared for in any way, but exist in a location because humans intended for them to be there, such as reforested trees.
  3. Seeds spread by humans to establish a prairie (the first generation would be cultivated, but resulting generations would not be, as they spread by means not controlled by humans).

Not a plant person, but here is my example - (https://inaturalist.ca/observations/88956784). Probably from garden waste across the street, but is now wild. The garden plants would be cultivated, this one is growing in the wild.

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There has been extensive discucssion about this topic on the forum in the past e.g.


I highly recommend reading these threads as they will probably help answer some questions.

In your example, I’d personally call it wild since it is reproducing and spreading outside of human management, but these things always tend to be a gray area.


I agree with this (or at least with what I think it’s implying). Plants that were originally planted in a garden area are clearly cultivated… but I think that offspring of those plants, whether from seed or vegetative spread, that are still within that garden area should still be considered “cultivated”. Why? Because they are not “in the wild”. We obviously EXPECT garden plants to propagate themselves (it’s natural) and them doing so doesn’t equate to a species naturalizing outside the boundary of human influence. The fact that an intentionally-cultivated garden plant happens to reproduce itself on the “wrong” side of the border fence around a yard (a “garden area”) doesn’t make it “wild” either. It’s merely an example of natural reproduction of an intentionally-cultivated plant.
It is, however, a difficult concept to get across to casual users (with other hurdles being the species ID itself and the basic understanding of how this species came to be in this area) and a difficult one to attach workable boundaries to.

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It’s more complex, if people aren’t looking after those plants and actually try to get rid of them, they’re not cultivated as if they’re weeds that grow in the same garden. And I agree with @kevinfaccenda, there’re about 3 dozens of large topics about cultivated plants, where probably each nuance was already mentioned and discussed.


From the point of view of “data analysis”, it’s just about the properties of a label: either this label has a very precise definition in the annotation guide, or it has not, in which case every user may interpret it, which may actually be desirable !

Now, we may want to assess whether the label’s definition in the guide is clear enough or confusing, which can be done by computing inter-annotator agreement: has it already been done in the past for this specific label ?

It doesn’t have the best definition, well, most things on iNat are impossible to fully learn without forum, but it was changed last year a wee bit I think, so if a request is made to further improve it, it likely will be, for now it’s just a continuum of discussions, but little exact proposals.

iNaturalist’s specific guidelines for cultivated plants outlines that the organism must be in a particular location because a human intended for it to be there. It’s pretty clear that propagation outside of human control or influence is not included within that definition. If this were the case, then every invasive species intentionally released in Hawaii would be considered “cultivated” because they were released onto the islands with the intent to have them propagate and spread.

I don’t make an exception for plants that spread within a garden, because a human intended for the plants to do so. However, if a human does not intend for the plant to spread outside of the garden, then individuals that have “escaped” no longer fit the criteria of “captive” or “cultivated.” In my opinion, an organism that has spread beyond the boundary of it’s initial release is to be considered “feral,” “wild,” or “released.” I pose these questions: how far must a garden plant spread to constitute a non-cultivated individual? The entire garden? The neighborhood? If I have a planted locust tree putting up clones in a nearby preserve, how can you tell it’s not wild?

A side note: you say that plants that spread within a garden are not wild, then use that as justification for why plants that spread outside of a garden should be considered “cultivated.” This argument is non sequitur, as the plants are not within a garden anymore. iNaturalist’s definition uses human intent, not prior cultivation status. Reproduction of an exotic species is naturalization.


I think the thing to distinguish here is that we are discussing iNat’s guidelines on what should be marked as wild vs captive, whereas I believe what you are discussing is your own interpretation of what considered wild versus captive. I struggled with this as well as my views aren’t 100% aligned with the iNat interpretation (only minor differences) but I still follow them when marking my observations. One discussion is on how to follow the rules and the other is discussing what the rules should be, and here we are discussing the former.

@rynxs explained it pretty well but since it hasn’t been posted yet here the rule is posted here: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#:~:text=Quality%20Assessment%20section.-,What%20does%20captive%20%2F%20cultivated%20mean%3F,to%20be%20then%20and%20there .


Yes, the FAQ pretty well covers it.
. #### *What does captive / cultivated mean?

hecking captive / cultivated means that the observation is of an organism that exists in the time and place it was observed because humans intended it to be then and there. Likewise, wild / naturalized organisms exist in particular times and places because they intended to do so (or because of intention of another wild organism). The main reason we try to mark things like this is because iNat is primarily about observing wild organisms, not animals in zoos, garden plants, specimens in drawers, etc., and our scientific data partners are often not interested in (or downright alarmed by) observations of captive or cultivated organisms.Since this tends to be kind of a gray area, here are some concrete examples:*Captive / cultivated (planted)

  • zebra in a zoo
  • poppy in a garden
  • tree planted 1, 10, or 100 years ago by humans
  • butterfly mounted in a display case and not appropriately marked with date and location of original collection
  • your pet such as a dog or cat
  • plants that grew from seeds that were planted in the ground or scattered*Wild
  • zebra in the Serengeti (assuming it’s not in a zoo in the Serengeti)
  • fly on a zebra in a zoo
  • weed or other unintended plant growing in a garden
  • butterfly that flew into a building
  • snake that you just picked up (yes, it’s in your hand where you intended it to be, but the place and time is where the snake intended to be)
  • feral dog or cat
  • your museum/herbarium specimens that are appropriately marked with date and location of original collection
  • garden plant that is reproducing on its own and spreading outside of the intended gardening area
  • a pigeon that benefits from human populations but is not actually raised by humans
  • a bird caught by a pet cat (presuming the bird isn’t also a pet)
  • a bird (not pet bird) that comes to an outdoor bird feeder
  • living organisms dispersed by the wind, water, and other forces apart from humans
  • a species that had been introduced to a new region and has established a population outside of human care

I’m a little surprised this is such a perennially green topic on the forum.

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Actually had an argument because FAQ lists feral cats, which pretty much means “afraid-of-humans” cats, there should be additional desciption of that part of another word used.

Huh… I would not have thought to characterize “afraid-of-humans” cats as feral. Too many non-feral or pet cats are also afraid of humans they do not know well. How could one know scared meant feral?

It’s described here https://www.alleycat.org/resources/feral-and-stray-cats-an-important-difference/
I don’t know, but cats I met are ok about humans, so this person said they can’t be feral as they’re friendly, it’s correct, but as iNat uses feral as description it makes life harder.

I guess, in my experience not all scared cats are feral. I can see the case that most feral cats tend to be scared of humans. However, many non-feral cats are scared of most humans they encounter also. My house cats would be terrified of any human they encountered, if they ever escaped to the outdoors. As it is, even indoors, one of them hides when we have visitors.

But, I keep getting a warning pop-up saying the topic is solved to only reply if … this or that. And, since the original topic is about plants, we ought to start new topic. But, I don’t think I want to get this notion about feral cats going again on the forum (yikes!).


You’re extrapolating far beyond what I actually said.

Yes, it’s a difficult concept to put actual boundaries around, hence the extensive discussion around it! If you feel that a garden plant growing a foot away from the edge of a cultivated flower bed is truly representative of an incursion into the wild, then yes, it makes sense to be 100% behind the iNat definition. If so, then shouldn’t each of these instances be acknowledged by the organizations that document plant ranges, e.g.; USDA Plants? BONAP? Flora of North America? However, they are not. They don’t fit workable definitions of a species incursion into the wild.
The iNat discussion of “captive/cultivated” references “intended gardening area”. Urban yards rarely incorporate undisturbed terrain - the entire area is typically “an intended gardening area” whether now occupied by lawn, planted trees, or a currently-cultivated garden bed.

For the record, USDA, BONAP and FNA all use data collected from local flora manuals, which often includes local escapees. There are several species I have encountered in Flora of the Chicago Region that were vouchered within meters of the gardens they escaped from. I know for a fact that botanists in Chicago routinely patrol planted areas to look for undocumented local escapee species. A good example would be Salvia yangii (Perovskia atriplicifolia in FotCR 2017), which was collected from pavement cracks and parking lot islands in a strip mall in Wheaton by Gerould Wilhelm himself.

If a species is capable of escaping, it should be documented. If it begins spreading, that’s even more reason to document it. Just because the area is “urban” doesn’t mean the species isn’t spreading beyond human intent and control.


If that individual plant wasn’t planted by a human, it’s wild. It’s that simple.

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