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In gardening and agronomic terminology, a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, rather than being deliberately planted by a farmer or gardener. Volunteers often grow from seeds that float in on the wind, are dropped by birds, or are inadvertently mixed into compost. Unlike weeds, which are unwanted plants, a volunteer may be encouraged by gardeners once it appears, being watered, fertilized, or otherwise cared for. The action of such plants – to sprout or grow in this fashion – may also be described as volunteering.
Volunteers that grow from the seeds of specific cultivars are not reliably identical or similar to their parent, and often differ significantly from it. Such open pollinated plants, if they show desirable characteristics, may be selected to become new cultivars.
In agricultural rotations, self-set plants from the previous year's crop may become established as weeds in the current crop. For example, volunteer winter wheat will germinate to quite high levels in a following oilseed rape crop, usually requiring chemical control measures. In agricultural research, high purity of a harvested crop is usually desirable. To achieve this, typically a group of temporary workers will walk the crop rows looking for volunteer plants, or "rogue" plants in an exercise often referred to as "roguing".
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