"Wild" vs. "planted" vs. "naturalized"

I would not say this is a gray area at all. If the plant is reproducing in the wild, it is wild. It does not matter if it’s native or not. This is made clear in the official guidelines.


Anything I might be missing here?

The left side refers to individual plants while the right side dips into population level dynamics.


Where are you getting this definition for naturalized? I’ve heard and used the word many times before and I don’t understand what you are talking about.

"Phases of the process can be defined on the basis of the relevant barrier(s) that are (or are not) overcome. Introduction means that the plant (or its propagule) has overcome, through human agency, a major geographical barrier (A in Fig. 1). Many introduced taxa survive as casuals (also ‘waifs’, ‘persisting after cultivation’); such taxa can reproduce sexually or vegetatively, but fail to maintain their populations over longer periods. Casuals therefore must rely on repeated introduction for their persistence. Naturalization only starts when environmental barriers (B) do not prevent individuals from surviving and when various barriers to regular reproduction (C) are overcome. Therefore a taxon can be considered successfully naturalized after overcoming barriers A, B and C. At this stage populations are sufficiently large that the probability of extinction due to environmental stochasticity is low "



Subspontaneous plant is missing: a cultivated plant gone wild that grows out of the native area. It is not wild, it is not cultivated.


I agree that this idea would just be seriously confusing I’m in the final few weeks of an ecology major bachelors and I’m not sure i understand it, but really no matter how long ago something was planted be it 1 10 or even 1000 years ago and no matter where it was planted it can never truly be considered wild only it’s offspring could, the only real grey area with plants being wild or not is garden waste escapes and even then you can usually comfortably call them wild


The captive/cultivated standard(s) is(are) a function of standards employed by iNaturalist’s partner bodies internationally.They make no sense but they make no sense consistently across institutional lines. To change the iNat standard would require changing standards elsewhere that have been around for a long time. Not going to happen.

It’s kind of like imperial versus metric. Metric is easier to learn and apply in every way but school kids in a surprising number of countries are still tormented with learning how to convert square inches to square yards because cultural intertia is what it is. I’ve lived in a country that is nominally metric for the great majority of my life but I remain saddled with the useless knowledge that there are 63,360 inches in a mile, just as I am stuck knowing that on iNat (and other such places) the same zebra can be wild or captive depending on which side of an arbitrarily placed fence it happens to be standing and a birch tree that longs for the forest in which it germinated is still laughably considered wild when the forest has been razed and the tree is left behind as a sad vestige placed dead centre in a suburban lawn. Hobgoblins of little minds and all that. Definitely not worth wasting time or bandwidth on.


It’s good to have a chart like this which makes it quick to determine category. I’d make the following minor modifications to it:

“non native to area” section -
write non native larger, like “native to area” is, with any additional definition shown below the line.

“seems like one-off thing, probably will not spread/survive…some call these adventive…” -
It seems difficult to tell something won’t spread. The fact that we find it at all could suggest it occurs in multiple nearby and/or distant locations. Adventive may have two definitions, but in the most relevant one means “introduced but not yet established,” versus “not going to establish” (they often do establish). if a simpler term were preferred for readability, something meaning “introduced but not yet established” may fit.

“naturalized” section -
A simpler term may simply be “established.”

Re the Topic prompt itself, I agree with what many seem to think, that “naturalized” isn’t directly comparable to the wild vs. cultivated annotation, both wild and cultivated can include “naturalized” and “adventive” examples. So, were it ever even to be added, it would be a subcategory underneath each of those individually, or in a separate category/area.

I don’t agree that there are no grey areas for “naturalized” for plants. Many plants spread through vegetative growth. If I spot a bit of plant coming up in a crack in the sidewalk, and there is the same species of plant cultivated a few feet away, how do I know if that the same physical individual sprouting from the roots, or a seedling? And if it is the same physical individual that has spread, and I cut the connection with a shovel, does that make it naturalized? Outside of mathematics there are almost always grey areas, and biology very rarely respects the schemes we devise to characterize it.


I haven’t gotten a chance yet to read through all the older forum posts that discuss wild vs. cultivated in great detail, including grey areas. That said, they seem to make sense to me as a coarse (vs. fine) description. Wild meaning found in the wild and not thought/known to be planted, cultivated meaning grown (for each, regardless of whether native or exotic, established or non-established). Some grey areas may exist, like trees that were known to be planted long ago but then spread, or someone finding trees they thought were wild which actually were planted. Those come up a lot I assume in city park/preserve like settings (for that matter, sometimes people don’t realize whether a preserve includes constructed/modified features, etc). But, many concept distinctions have some grey areas. There are also many examples for wild vs cultivated that are clearcut, too. So I think the concept mostly fits, for what it’s trying to describe at least (it isn’t intending to be a full description of a plant).

I might suggest one new idea, that maybe cultivated could be considered verifiable/RG too, vs. casual. But, the complexity for doing that would be it’s currently useful for non-wild (e.g. mammals or insects) to not show up on default-filter (verifiable) searches. So, the addition could work if verifiable obs. had two added subcategories - verifiable-wild and verifiable-non-wild/cultivated. And default filter searches would be defined to exclude the second, unless manually chosen to be included in filter settings. I mention this because I infer some users dislike the fact that all cultivated are casual grade, more so than they dislike the concept of cultivated.

It’s far from being a new idea, see this where you can vote: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/make-captive-cultivated-not-automatically-no-id-needed/112


If I were put on the spot and had to characterize what it is that bothers people most about captive/cultivated I’d say that the inconsistency between how the categories are applied to plants and animals would be one beef that comes up a lot. Another regular complaint is implicit in the various suggestions for making the categories more “scientific” or “ecological” .

The fact is that these ways of categorizing have been around a lot longer than digital media and some very long time series of data are going to be screwed up if the categories are changed. We’re stuck with them and it’s not really a big deal. Anybody who wants a different system to apply to their data is free to add fields.

There isn’t really a good universal consensus on exactly what the terms mean. See the following:

Colautti, R. I., & MacIsaac, H. J. (2004). A neutral terminology to define “invasive” species. Diversity and Distributions

The distinctions you’d like to make are better served on platforms like GBIF, IUCN, the Invasive Species Compendium, etc, not iNat.

Remember that one of the core principles behind iNat is to get people more engaged with their natural surroundings, the science part is, in some regards, a side benefit, although it’s also one of the hooks.

Trying to make things unnecessarily complicated, especially on a subject for which there is already not great scientific consensus, isn’t especially useful to users.

It’s best, in my opinion, to keep the definitions on iNat simple for the users (see @bouteloua’s diagram) in order to avoid confusion and complication. If individuals want to take it further then they can do so on their own or via linked platforms.

Not only are the terms lacking in consensus, even at the scientific level, when it comes to naturalized species there is often a large amount of disagreement over whether specific species are actually naturalized or not, and naturalized is not an exclusive term, so species can be several overlapping terms at the same time.


This is similar to the definition of an introduced plant growing in the wild, which are categorized as wild by iNat currently. Arguably, they do fit best in the wild category, especially since some have been growing in the wild for a very long time or become ubiquitous.

Re comments about not being able to tell if a plant is wild or planted, as giving reason to add naturalized:

Observations start categorized as wild by default, meaning that category can be understood to include uncertain cases, so doesn’t necessarily mean it’s marked to indicate it’s “certainly wild.” It just means it’s not known to be cultivated yet. In other words, I think of the starting wild default somewhat like “nothing is specified,” and so the process is “If a plant is known to be cultivated, mark it as such.” The fact that the wild category is default means it has slight differences in definition/meaning vs. the cultivated category (i.e. not 100% analogous).

For the question of if “naturalized” is a useful concept ecologically, it can be, although when compared to wild, cultivated, native, and introduced, there are few circumstances where having it would significantly change what the others (in combinations) could indicate about a plant. Most outdoor introduced plants not known to be cultivated are adventive or established, and it’s also difficult or uncommon to distinguish (already present) plants that need multiple introductions before becoming established. Anyway, were naturalized to be used, it would fit in more as a subcategory or aspect vs. alternative to wild, cultivated, native, and introduced. The naturalized definition cited in one comment (overcoming steps A, B, and C) is also highly similar just to the meaning of an introduced and established plant (which imply wild).

It seems like you’re misunderstanding (or misusing?) the term ‘naturalized’ here.

‘Wild’ and ‘captive/cultivated’ are both descriptors for a single organism. That’s why they can be applied to an observation (which is by definition, of a single organism). If someone planted it there, or is keeping an animal in an enclosure, it’s captive/cultivated. If it grew or made its way there without human input, it’s wild. (And of course there are grey areas where it’s hard to determine the history of that specific organism - just like there are grey areas where it’s hard to determine the ID of a specific organism).

In contrast, ‘naturalized’ is a descriptor for an entire species or population. It’s on the same level as ‘native’ or ‘endangered’ for example. Users don’t provide those descriptors on iNat observations, because population-scale terms don’t need to be applied to a single individual. Instead, when those descriptors are relevant, they are associated with the species itself in iNat’s own taxonomy - which is managed by curators with reference to sources, rather than being managed by individual observers/identifiers.

To demonstrate further - the ‘captive/cultivated’ and ‘wild’ categories are mutually exclusive (everything is either one or the other, and never both). But if ‘naturalized’ was added as a category, it would no longer be mutually exclusive. A naturalized species (say, a sycamore maple in the UK) can be wild if it’s growing of its own accord in a forest, or it can be cultivated if someone planted it in a garden. In both of those cases, the species itself is still naturalized in that location. So would you say both those observations should be marked as ‘naturalized’ instead of ‘wild’ or ‘captive/cultivated’? That would actually remove important information from the observation! And it wouldn’t add anything, because the species itself is already recorded as naturalized in the UK in iNat’s species database.


I’m sometimes not sure actually, especially with things around my yard. What if a plant is the opposite of naturalized? There are plenty of threads and examples about when cultivated plants become wild (e.g. reseeding and spreading on their own), and how weeds in a garden are considered wild as well. But at which point have you ‘captured’ a wild plant volunteering in your garden enough to turn it from a ‘weed’ to cultivated?

I have multiple examples around my yard of native plants that are spreading by seeds on their own, from perennials to shrubs and trees that the birds and squirrels planted. I even had some orchids pop up this year, which was exciting to see. Technically these should all be ‘wild’ according to iNat definitions since no human was involved in planting them. However, they are in a yard setting and now that they’re here I do some selective weeding around them and give more care to those plants that I want to keep and encourage. I may even give them a name tag once I’ve identified what they are.

To the casual observer, these plants may look cultivated, even though they were not planted/seeded by humans and I’m mostly just doing weed management, pulling what I don’t want and leaving what I’d like to keep. Since I’m selectively reducing competition for the desirable volunteers, do they count as cultivated now? Or are those plants still wild, even though they are now getting the garden plant treatment and enjoying the extra care and compost I provide? There are a lot of gray areas here.

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They’re not wild if you specifically care for them.

But at what level of care does this switch happen? I think there are a lot of gray areas. E.g. I have a patch of meadow in my front yard that looks pretty wild but only exists because I made the conscious management decision to only mow there once a year. I also pull invasive weeds, and last year I thinned out the goldenrods that had volunteered to avoid having them take over everything. So this year I have a larger variety of asters in that patch. Not a single one of those was planted or seeded by myself. I just cut it down in spring and then sit back and watch and pull invasive weeds and what I think needs thinning. So would the plants that volunteer in this managed patch of home landscape and that I don’t pull count as wild or cultivated? They are ‘managed’ but not planted.

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Unless the plant came up on its own and then someone started to care for it, in which case it would still be wild.

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