「自然景觀」一詞最早是和風景畫、景觀設計的詞語一起出現，是更接近自然的風格。亚历山大·冯·洪堡（1769 – 1859）更進一步的概念化，將自然景觀和文化景觀分開。1908年時，地理學家奧托·施呂特發展出「原始景觀」Urlandschaft以及「文化景觀」Kulturlandschaft的詞語，試圖突顯地理科學中，一個不同於其他科學的主題。早期地理學家使用「自然景觀」一詞可以回推到卡爾·歐·紹爾1925年的論文《景觀形態》（The Morphology of Landscape）
- "The area prior to the introduction of man 's activity is represented by one body of morphologic facts. The forms that man has introduced are another set. We may call the former, with reference to man, the original, natural landscape. In its entirety it no longer exists in many parts of the world, but its reconstruction and understanding are the first part of formal morphonology." 
- "The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result." 
- The European Environment Agency's planned forest naturalness index is an example of an attempt to define one type of natural landscape in Europe. The Agency lists forests in three categories: (1) Plantations; (2) Semi-natural; and (3) Naturally dynamic. The latter are "forests whose structure, composition and function have been shaped by natural dynamics without substantial anthropogenic influence over a long period of time".
- Carl O. Sauer, "The Morphology of Landscape". University of California Publications in Geography, vol. 2, No. 2, 12 October 1925, p. 37. https://archive.org/stream/universityofc02univ/universityofc02univ_djvu.txt
- Carl O. Sauer, "The Morphology of Landscape", p. 46.
- Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press, 1962, p. 1.
- Carl O. Sauer, "The Morphology of Landscape". University of California Publications in Geography 2 (2), pp. 19-53.