The Joy of Exploration: Background
The "Living Land Project"
Most of our exploring during the last season has happened as part of the Living Land Project
a recently launched multi-year initiative in collaboration with
Hudsonia and the Columbia Land Conservancy. The project involves the
detailed ecological description of diverse habitats in all regions of
the County, together with the exploration of how people are perceiving
and interacting with these habitats. The findings will be compiled into a
"Field Guide to the Ecology and Culture of Columbia County Habitats".
A number of excellent Field Guides to Ecological Habitats for different
states in New England have recently been published (see bibliography).
The NY Natural Heritage Program website offers beautiful descriptions of
many Ecological Communities of New York State
and Hudsonia's Biodiversity Assessment Manual for the Hudson River
Estuary Corridor is still the most applicable regional guide to
ecologically significant habitats. At the county-level, the most
comprehensive and coherent description of habitats goes back to the
1930s and was published in 1959 as a section in Rogers McVaugh's "Flora
of Columbia County". Since then, much has changed in our county and
there is no up-to-date guide to its ecological habitats. Furthermore, we
are not aware of any examples where a guide to habitats addresses both
their ecological characteristics and their cultural significance. We are
very excited to embark on this innovative project!
County-wide Catalogs of Flora and Fauna
Based on McVaugh's "Flora of Columbia County
", information provided by the New York Flora Atlas
, and our own field observations over the last 10 years, we have compiled an updated Checklist of Plants of Columbia County
It reflects our best knowledge of the 1491 plant species currently
found in the County and gives some information about the status
(native/non-native, declining, habitat preference, etc.) of each
species. We have also compiled A Tentative Table of Columbia County NY Butterflies, with indications of their status
. Comparable lists for dragonflies, native bees, ground beetles, ants and spiders are forthcoming.
Take orchids as an example of the kind of information that can be
gleaned from the Checklist of Plants. According to our best knowledge,
there could be 29 species of orchids found in our county. Almost half of
them we have not yet seen and some, such as the Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae
) or the Rattlesnake Plantains (Goodyera
sp.) were already very rare in the 1930s and have likely gone extinct within the County.
Others, that were rare in the 1930s, we still consider rare today.
The rare Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida) we know only from a Hemlock Swamp on Mercer Mountain in Austerlitz.
Many orchids have been common or locally abundant in the 1930s, but are known to us now from only one or two locations.
This Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes
) used to be "common in swampy woods or meadows", but we found it for the first time this year in a shrub swamp in Canaan.
The Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum
used to be "locally abundant in rich, often calcareous woods", but is
known to us now from only two locations, one in Ancram and one in New
The Slender Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes lacera
) was described in the 1930s as "common in grassy fields", but we have so far found it in a single dry meadow in Hillsdale.
The Green Fringed or Ragged-fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera
used to be "frequent in meadows, open fields, and woods". We have seen
this species in Columbia County only three times during the last 10
The Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides
) used to be locally abundant in open bogs. We now know of a single occurrence of this species in the County.
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