landcover=* is the observed (bio)physical cover on the earth's surface.
It describes what you can actually see in bird's eye view or in aerial photography, independently if it is biological or geological. This can be the tallest plants (e.g. trees) or the naked surface (e.g. bare rock).
- Landcover is what you can actually see in bird's eye view or in aerial photography. It is what faces the sky: Tallest plants (not one by one), barren soil, barren mountain rocks etc. Landcover can only be tagged on areas, not on ways or nodes. It incorporates the whole earth's surface, without oceans.
- Surface is the upper layer of the planet if vegetation etc. is hypothetically stripped off. This may be a natural surface such as rock, sand, soil, water or a man made surface such as asphalt, concrete, paving stones, or pebble stones. Surface is mostly tagged on mad-made barrent things such as the active parts of roads, plazas, sports pitches etc., but may also be tagged where the surface beneath a landcover is unusual, such as trees growing on sand. Surface can be tagged on areas but would mostly be used on ways and points that already carry a primary tag which makes it relevant. For instance a way tag as a highway will often have a surface to indicate if and how it is paved.
- Landuse is the how an area is used, which may or may not related to its landcover and/or surface. Land use tags should be used where the use is known and not implied by some other tag. Common uses in topography maps are residential area, cemetery, cropland, meadow, orchard and vineyard.
The current situation
Today OSM lacks a consistent tagging scheme for the earth's surface.
natural=* is a mishmash of landcover features (e.g. wood) and landscape features (e.g. single tree, tree_row). This is disturbing to a simple and consistent tagging of the earth's surface.
There is no tag for areas of perennial ice/snow on mountain tops or in the polar area.
There is no tag for all areas including infrastructure features.
How to map
Gaps between neighbouring areas are to be avoided.
There are 8 main values with 8 sub-keys. There are in total 36 subcategories.
|landcover=water||Area of open water or permanent ice/snow cover.||water=lake||Area of water surrounded by land.||natural=water|
|water=river||Area of a wide river.|
|water=reservoir||Artificial lake, used to store water.|
|water=canal||Area of a man-made channel for water.|
|water=ice||Area characterized by year-long surface cover of ice and/or snow. Glaciers, mountain tops, polar ice.|
|landcover=wetland||Area where the soil is periodically saturated with or covered with water.||wetland=swamp||Swamps are wooded wetlands that are often flooded for a portion of the year. Swamp vegetation is dominated by trees and tall shrubs.||natural=wetland|
|wetland=marsh||Marshes are wetlands that are periodically or permanently flooded with water. Marsh vegetation typically consists of non-woody plants such as cattails, rushes, reeds, grasses and sedges|
|wetland=bog||Bogs are peat-filled depressions that receive their water and nutrients from rainfall. Peat consists of partially decomposed plants. They are frequently covered in shrubs rooted in the sphagnum moss and peat.|
|wetland=fen||Fens are located in areas where groundwater discharges to the surface. Typical fen vegetation includes sedges and mosses, along with some grasses, reeds, low shrubs.|
|landcover=grassland||Area dominated by upland grasses.||grassland=natural||Natural/semi-natural grassland.||landuse=grass|
|grassland=savanna||Natural grassland with sparsed trees or scrubs.|
|grassland=tundra||Alpine tundra: habitat above the treeline, characterised by open, low growing vegetation.|
|grassland=meadow||Area of grassland, used for hay or pasture.
|landcover=plantation||Land used for growing crops or fruits.||plantation=cropland||Land used for growing crops.
landuse=farmland. See crop=*.
|plantation=orchard||Plantation of fruit trees or shrubs.
|plantation=vineyard||Plantation of grape-bearing vines.
|plantation=aquatic||Cultivated aquatic or regularly flooded areas.|
|landcover=woodland||Area characterized by tree cover.||leaf_type=broadleaved||Broadleaved vegetation.||landuse=forest|
|leaf_type=mixed||Broadleaved and needle-leaved vegetation.|
|managed=yes Woodland is managed/maintained.|
|leaf_cycle=evergreen/deciduous/mixed Leaf phenology.|
|cover=closed/open/sparse Proportion of a particular area covered by plants.|
|landcover=shrubland||Area characterized by woody vegetation with aerial stems, generally less than 6 meters tall, without interlocking.||shrubland=scrub||Uncultivated land covered with bushes or stunted trees.||natural=scrub|
|shrubland=heath||Vegetation dominated by dwarf shrubs of the heather family.|
|shrubland=tundra||Arctic tundra: treeless habitat, characterised by open, low growing vegetation.|
|landcover=bareland||Bare(barren) land, with little or no "green" vegetation.||bareland=sand||Area covered with sand.||natural=sand|
|bareland=bare_soil||Area covered with earthen material.|
|bareland=hardpan||Hardpans are surfaces that have been indurated due to chemical or physical processes. Also dry lake, salt pan.|
|bareland=gravel||Area covered with loose rock fragments. Scree, gravel beach.|
|bareland=stones||Area covered with stones. Stone desert.|
|bareland=bare_rock||Area covered with bare_rock.|
|landcover=artificial||Artificial surfaces and associated areas.||artificial=road||Area covered by wide roads.||landuse=railway|
|artificial=railroad||Area covered by wide railways.|
|artificial=pipeline||Area used for communication lines/pipelines.|
|The values are somehow sorted by height of the vegetation zone. Many values relate to the NLCD 92 Land Cover Class Definitions. Some values relate to the Land Cover Classification System (LCCS).|