Third Annual Long Island Natural History Conference































Status of orchids on Long Island, New York

Eric Lamont, Ph.D., President, Long Island Botanical Society
and Tom Nelson, Co-author of Orchids of New England and New York

Historically, 36 native orchid species have been documented with voucher specimens from Long Island. Fourteen of the species are currently considered extirpated (although they can be naturally re-established) and several other species are known from only a single population or very few individuals. One hundred fifty years ago, Brooklyn and Queens were the orchid hotspots of Long Island. Today, Suffolk County provides healthy habitat for most of the island’s surviving orchids. In 1962, Roy Latham collected the first specimen of a non-native orchid on Long Island (Epipactis helleborine, broad-leaved helleborine); since then, it has spread throughout the island.

In 1996, Lamont authored Atlas of the Orchids of Long Island, New York, exclusively based on voucher specimens collected from the 1850s to the 1990s. Since 1996, we have continued to monitor orchid populations on Long Island along with other local botanists and naturalists. This talk presents the results of our on-going field work on the status of orchids on Long Island.

To briefly summarize, during the past 20 years almost all species of native orchids on Long Island have declined in number of populations and/or individuals. Previously unreported populations of a few orchid species have been recently found by members of the Long Island Botanical Society. Populations of the non-native Epipactis helleborine can now be found throughout the island including dense urban areas like Brooklyn and Queens. Conservation efforts to preserve threatened orchid populations have been successful but need continual management which over time can be a problem. Some of the major threats to remaining orchid populations include herbivory, natural succession of open marshes and grasslands into shrub lands, roadside mowing and winter salting, and habitat destruction. Long Island still has large tracts of preserved open space which provide refugia for surviving orchid populations and other rare plants and animals.

Eric Lamont ( was born and raised on Long Island. Early in his life, he was influenced by his grandmother, Darina, who was born in an isolated valley of the High Tatras Mountains in present-day Slovakia. She would take young Eric on nature walks and the two would spend hours together in her flower gardens. Eric has a Ph.D. in Botany and taught high school biology for 32 years. He has been the president of the Long Island Botanical Society since 1992 and is past-president of the Torrey Botanical Society. He was a contributing author to Flora of North America and is the author of more than 60 botanical papers in peer-reviewed journals. Eric has also discovered two previously undescribed plant species that were new to science. Eric and his wife Mary Laura live in the hamlet of Northville on the North Fork.

Tom Nelson ( first became interested in orchids as a teenager in Utah, where he was mentored by the noted botanist Arthur Holmgren, an authority on the flora of the Great Basin Region. Tom studied the native species of the nearby Bear River Range and grew tropical species in the greenhouse that his wonderfully supportive parents built. Tom ended up pursuing a career in music, and is currently a professional jazz pianist in New York City where he lives with his wife Jackie and daughters Johanna and Christina.

In 2007 the Nelson family began a series of epic orchid hunting road trips to the far corners of North America. The Nelsons have driven over 60,000 miles in pursuit of wild orchids, allowing Tom to see and photograph 103 species and varieties. Tom has written a series of articles for the North American Native Orchid Journal telling the tale of these trips; he also gives talks about native orchids.