Columbia County has more than 1500 species of wild-growing vascular plants, incl. trees, shrubs, broad-leaved and grass-like herbaceous plants, as well as ferns and their relatives. This represents more than a third of the plants currently known from the entire State of New York. 75% of the County's flora is considered native to our region, while 25% is composed of non-native plants that have been introduced within the last 400 years mostly from Eurasia, but also from the western or south-eastern US and some even from the tropics. These non-native plants include 64 invasive species.
Some plant species are pretty common throughout the County, for example common grasses, legumes, and “weeds” of pastures, hayfields, and roadsides. Others are quite limited to certain uncommon habitat types, such as freshwater tidal marshes, acidic bogs or outcrops of calcium-rich rocks. Beyond habitat preferences, there are also patterns of geographic affinity. Certain plant species with a generally more southern distribution occur in our county mostly along the Hudson and the lower reaches of its tributaries, and are limited to the relatively flat, western half of the county. Plants of a generally more northern affinity occur mostly in the higher elevations of the mountains in the eastern half of the county.
To date, the best local resource about our flora and some of the patterns mentioned above is the book “The Flora of the Columbia County Area, New York” which was published in 1958 by Rogers McVaugh, based on his field observations as a young botanist in the 1930s. Our botanical work and, more generally, our understanding of the ecology of Columbia County has benefitted tremendously from the detailed information compiled by Rogers McVaugh in this Flora. Much of the knowledge we have to share about the plants of our County is based on his early insights and we are deeply grateful for his careful work that provided a solid base for our own efforts. Please read more about Rogers McVaugh, his work in Columbia County 80 years ago, and our delightful experience meeting him late in his life.
You find an annotated listing of all the vascular plants currently (September 2018) known from the County in our recently updated Columbia County Plant List. We will continue to refine the list by adding new species as they are discovered by ourselves and our colleagues during research in the County, and by updating the annotations about the rarity of species to reflect our (we hope) ever expanding knowledge about the plants in the County. We hope for your help in making this list ever more accurate, so please give us feedback if you have seen additional species or disagree with any of the information presented. This list is very much a work in progress, but we hope it serves as a useful tool for everybody interested in exploring the flora of our County.
Our own Local ID Guides
- We have compiled some material to help with the identification of Common Grasses and Legumes of our Pastures and with the identification of Woody Plants in Winter.
- During the Spring of 2020, we compiled a detailed weekly record of "What's in Bloom?" on our Spring Flora web page, which can now serve as a reference point to compare year-to-year variation in the unfolding of spring and to help anticipate which flowers are 'in season'.
A Few of our Relevant Blog Postings
- Over the years, Claudia (mostly) has described different aspects of our local botany in our blog:
- The Spring flowers of herbaceous plants were a theme of blogs in April 2011, April 2012 and April 2014.
- This posting and this one, both from April 2011, touched upon some of the Spring-time flowers of woody plants.
- A 2011 double-header displayed some of our autumn plants: Part 1, Part 2.
- This blog posting is an introduction to winter bud identification and this one profiles the winter shapes of trees.
- Postings have also covered the following: Violets & Ladyslippers, Hawthorns, green plants of late winter, some meadow flowers of June, Phudd Hill mosses and ferns, and the plants of our re-vegetating stream corridor.
Recommended Field Guides for Herbaceous Plants (all of these, except the sedge guide, are approx. $20, cheaper if found used)
- Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers
- Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Unfortunately, the taxonomy in this book is somewhat outdated, but the illustrations remain superb! Fortunately, Steve Young has compiled a list of Name Changes in Newcomb's Wildflower Guide August 2022)
- Peterson Field Guide to Ferns
- Grasses - An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown.
- Sedges of Maine: A Field Guide to Cyperaceae by Matt Arsenault and others.
Recommended Field Guides for Woody Plants
- Trees of the Northern United States and Canada by John Farrar. This is our one-stop favorite - photos and line drawings of most relevant details, including buds; no shrubs unfortunately.
- Bark: A Field Guide to the Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech. Don't expect to be able to ID trees by bark alone, but this publication will help you develop one line of evidence.
- Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs of the Northeastern United States. A good basic resource.
Winter Botany Guides, in addition to the above guides which can also help
- A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter by Carol Levine and Dick Raub. A detailed book that is Claudia's primary winter herbaceous plant reference.
- Weeds in Winter by Lauren Brown. A good introductory overview of the dry, brown, crispy stuff you're likely to find out there.
- Season of Promise: Wild Plants in Winter in the Northeastern United States by June Roberts. Some beautiful, inviting illustrations
- Woody Plants in Winter by Earl Core and Nelle Ammons. Basic illustrations that get the job done in a straightforward way; this is the book that got Conrad started on winter botany. It's available in print and as a free digital copy.
- Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow. The B&W photos are a bit faint, but it's a good, inexpensive resource.
- Illustrated-Guide to Trees and Shrubs by Arthur Graves. Not meant as a winter botany book, but the fine line drawings of buds can be quite useful in winter.
Cell Phone/Ipad Apps
- vTree, quite a nice, free app with tree ID info. inc. bud, bark and fruit photos. Meant for iphone and android, but also works on ipad (email us if you want the trick for loading it on ipad).
Ecology and Flora of Our County
McVaugh, Rogers: Flora of the Columbia County Area, New York. 1958. New York State Museum and Science Service. Bulletin # 360, 433p. Available for less than $10 at the New York State Museum. A digital version is also available, courtesy of the New York State Library.
Ecology, Land Use History, Plant Communities, Animals of Our Region
- Jorgensen, Neil: A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide. Southern New England. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. 417p. $16
Plant Lore and Plant-Animal-Interactions in Different Habitats
- Eastman, John: The Book of Field and Roadside. 2003. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA
- Eastman, John: The Book of Forest and Thicket. 1992. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA
- Eastman, John: The Book of Swamp and Bog. 1995. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA
- Gracie, Carol. Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast - A Natural History. 2012. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford
- Sanders, Jack: The Secrets of Wildflowers - A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. 2003. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT
Exhaustive Botanical Manuals
- Gleason, Henry A. and Arthur Cronquist: Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. 1991. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. 910p. $60
- Haines, Arthur: Flora Novae Angliae - A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England. 2011. New England Wild Flower Society. 973p. $61.30
- Holmgren, Noel H.: The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 1998. NewYork Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. 937p. $125
- New England Wildflower Society's "GoBotany" (includes identification keys based on Haines' "Flora Novae Angliae" and provides excellent images for most of the plants in our County)
- New York Flora Association
- New York Natural Heritage Program (includes excellent guides to rare species and habitats)
- New York State Plant Atlas (lists of plants by county; distribution of plant species within New York State)
- USDA Plant Data Base (very comprehensive resource about plant species, their distribution in North America, wetland indicator value, protection status, images, etc.)