New York Metropolitan Flora Project

Chelone lyonii
Chelone lyonii. Photo by Uli Lorimer.
Apios americana
Apios americana. Photo by Uli Lorimer.
Dodecatheon amethystinum
Dodecatheon amethystinum. Photo by Uli Lorimer.

In 1990 the Garden embarked on the New York Metropolitan Flora project (NYMF), a multiyear effort to document the flora in all counties within a 50-mile radius of New York City, including all of Long Island, southeastern New York State, northern New Jersey and Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Understanding the urban landscape is critical in our rapidly urbanizing world. Findings of BBG's Metropolitan Flora Project serve as vital references for those involved in environmental efforts, from preserving rare plants, to planning parks and greenways, to repairing degraded habitats, to designing home gardens in which native plant communities are preserved or restored.

Below are five case studies of changing plant populations based on NYMF data that are being used to inform native species conservation, habitat restoration, and the long-term health of ecosystems.

Case Studies

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Rosaceae—Rose Family

Prunus serotina

Mouse over the map to see the before and after data.

As the NYMF maps show, the native black cherry is now widespread in our area; in fact, it’s the most common woody species encountered by scientists in the NYMF range today. This is attributed to the tree’s ability to grow in a wide range of habitats, climatic conditions, and soil types. It tends to dominate in areas disrupted by human activity. In addition, the black cherry produces copious fruit enjoyed by a variety of birds that, in turn, widely disseminate the tree’s seeds.

Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Simaroubaceae–Quassia Family

Ailanthus altissima

Mouse over the map to see the before and after data.

NYMF data shows that this invasive nonnative weed is currently the tenth most common woody species in the NYMF range. Like the black cherry, it can thrive in areas disturbed by human activity, which gives it an advantage over many other plants. First introduced to North America in 1784, the Chinese tree-of-heaven is fast growing, produces abundant seeds, and has the ability to take hold in the most inhospitable locations. There is also some evidence that it secretes chemicals from its roots that prevent other trees from growing near it. It’s the tree famously referred to in Betty Smith’s classic novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Swamp Pink (Helonias bullata)

Liliaceae–Lily Family

Helonias bullata

Mouse over the map to see the before and after data.

The beautiful swamp pink is one of about 100 native species showing marked decline in the area of the NYMF study. The cause? Most likely habitat loss, specifically the loss to urban development of Atlantic white cedar swamps and wetlands. The swamp pink was last seen by BBG scientists in the NYMF range in 1981.

Tuberous Grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus)

Orchidaceae—Orchid Family

Calopogon tuberosus

Mouse over the map to see the before and after data.

This beautiful orchid was once found growing in the wetlands where JFK International Airport now sits. NYMF data indicates that its range has seriously declined since 1980, probably due to loss of habitat. Orchids often have clever ways of attracting pollinators. The tuberous grass-pink orchid engages in "deceit pollination": It lures insects to its hairy upper lip, which resembles anthers full of pollen. When an insect lands on the lip to feed, the lip swings down, and any pollinia (pollen sacs) inadvertently attached to the insect’s backside from visits to other orchids come into contact with the plant’s reproductive organs. At the same time, more pollen adheres to its back for the next orchid.

Prickly-Pear (Opuntia humifusa)

Cactaceae–Cactus Family

Opuntia humifusa

Mouse over the map to see the before and after data.

Of the 190 cactus species native to North America, the prickly-pear is the only one native to the area. It usually grows in dry, well-draining soils and may be found at a number of different elevations. NYMF data shows that the distribution pattern for this plant is changing. This is thought to be due to habitat loss, but more research is needed to determine if pollinator loss, diseases, or other factors contribute as well.

The metropolitan plant encyclopedia consists of a series of comprehensive pages on the plants of the New York metropolitan region. For each family, genus, and species in the area there are one or more pages with photos, distribution maps, descriptions, ecological information, references and much more. Horticultural information will be added in the months ahead. At this time BBG scientists are concentrating on woody plants. The encyclopedia includes pages for all woody species in the area.

Table of Contents

Contents listed by family and genus

How to Use the Encyclopedia

A guide to the contents of the encyclopedia


Definitions of terms used in the encyclopedia

New York Woody Plants

BBG scientists have compiled a list of woody plant species in the New York Metropolitan region.

To view and search the list, visit the map of woody plant species by county.

Interactive Keys to the Woody Plants of New York State and the New York Metropolitan Area

New York Metro Area

  • PC Version
    NOTE: This botanical key will only work on Internet Explorer. It also uses JavaScript and HTML frames.

How to Use SLIKS, by Gerald F. Guala (© 2004-06)

(Modified from:

To begin...

Click on the file SLIKSFINAL.html (or SLIKSPDA.html) to start.

The buttons at the top...

"Matching Taxa" pares down the list at the right to only those taxa that have the states that you have indicated by checking the boxes in the set of characters at the left.

"Applicable Chars" is used after you have used the key at least once. It pares down the list of characters at the left to only those characters that differ among the remaining taxa listed at the right.

"Restart" restarts the identification process and clears the memory.

"About" is self-explanatory.

"Help" is self-explanatory

On the left...

Clicking on the character takes you to a file that explains and illustrates the character.

On the right...

Clicking on the "D" button in front of any taxon at the right gives you the entire list of characters with their states for that taxon.

Clicking on the taxon name itself sends you to the web page or image that is indicated in the character matrix for that taxon. Some keys have added icons for multiple data sources.

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