Stephen M. Young

Stephen M. Young

Open Uplands
State Protection
Not Listed
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Global Conservation Status Rank


Did you know?

For over fifty years, the once expansive Hempstead Plains (named after the Village of Hempstead, which was founded in 1644) served as a Cradle of Aviation in Nassau County. By 1910, The Plains, which covered over 50 square miles, were home to three airfields and a few flying schools. One of these airfields, Roosevelt Field (previously known as the Hempstead Plains Aerodrome), was the departure point for Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 transatlantic flight to Paris.

State Ranking Justification

While once a part of an extensive grassland system, Hempstead Plains grassland is now restricted to one site on the coastal lowlands in Nassau County in western Long Island. This one documented occurrence represents the only known location for this globally rare community; no additional sites are expected to be discovered. The remnant occurrence has fair to poor viability and is protected on public or private land. It is vulnerable to development, which is the most crucial impending threat to the community. The community's trend, overall, is declining due to invasive species encroachment, woody species invasion, and trash dumping.

Short-term Trends

In recent decades, the acreage of this community has remained somewhat stable but may be declining as shrubs invade the edges. The community's quality/viability has declined due to invasive species encroachment, fire suppression, and trash dumping.

Long-term Trends

The acreage and number of Hempstead Plains grasslands has severely declined from their historical extent due to development. Greater than 99% of the community's area of occupancy has been lost.

Conservation and Management


The existing remnant patches of Hempstead Plains grassland are surrounded by urban development and illegal garbage dumping has been common. The community is extremely vulnerable to further development and associated disturbances. It has been colonized by invasive exotic species, including Lespedeza cuneata, Artemesia vulgaris, and Euphorbia cyparissias, which have the potential to spread further throughout the community. Fire suppression threatens to convert the community from open grasslands to successional shrublands or successional southern hardwoods.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Restore and replicate the natural fire regime, as appropriate. Implement restoration including trash clearing, reducing woody species as they invade, and removing invasive exotic species and monitoring their abundance. Monitor visitor use and work with landowner to restrict access if excess trampling and cycling is negatively affecting the community. Investigate the feasibility of restoring nearby natural areas back to this community type.

Development and Mitigation Considerations

This community is located in a landscape that is heavily developed. Connections to adjacent communities are unlikely to exist. However, adequate protection, restoration, proper management, and no further development in and around the site, should allow the grassland's viability to improve.

Inventory Needs

Aerial surveys for this community have been conducted and no other remnants were found. More compositional data, including plot data collection, is needed, as is additional data on rare and characteristic animals.

Research Needs

Documentation of the natural fire regime of this community is needed.

Rare Species

  • Agalinis decemloba (Sandplain Agalinis) (guide)
  • Aletris farinosa (Stargrass) (guide)
  • Ammodramus henslowii (Henslow's Sparrow) (guide)
  • Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) (guide)
  • Asclepias viridiflora (Green Milkweed) (guide)
  • Bartramia longicauda (Upland Sandpiper) (guide)
  • Callophrys irus (Frosted Elfin) (guide)
  • Carex mesochorea (Midland Sedge) (guide)
  • Circus hudsonius (Northern Harrier) (guide)
  • Crocanthemum dumosum (Bushy Rockrose) (guide)
  • Datana ranaeceps (A Hand-maid Moth) (guide)
  • Desmodium ciliare (Little-leaf Tick Trefoil) (guide)
  • Gentiana saponaria (Soapwort Gentian) (guide)
  • Pycnanthemum muticum (Blunt Mountain Mint) (guide)
  • Sericocarpus linifolius (Flax-leaf Whitetop) (guide)
  • Symphyotrichum concolor var. concolor (Eastern Silvery Aster) (guide)
  • Tripsacum dactyloides (Northern Gama Grass) (guide)
  • Viola brittoniana (Coast Violet) (guide)


New York State Distribution

Hempstead Plains grassland is restricted to the coastal lowlands in Nassau County in western Long Island. Historically, it covered a fairly large area of western Long Island (roughly 38,000 acres), which may have been in the central part of its historical range from Massachusetts to New Jersey.

Global Distribution

Hempstead Plains grassland is restricted to the coastal lowlands in Nassau County in western Long Island, New York. Historically, it may have ranged from Massachusetts to New Jersey. The community is related to midwestern grasslands, and it may represent the easternmost occurrence of a community known as a "sand prairie" in the midwestern United States (NatureServe 2009).

Best Places to See

  • Mitchel Field, Nassau Community College (Nassau County)

Identification Comments

General Description

A tall grassland community that occurs on rolling outwash plains in west-central Long Island. This community occurs inland, beyond the influence of offshore winds and salt spray. Historically this community covered about 15,000 hectares (approximately 38,000 acres) of western Long Island; less than around 15 hectares (37 acres) remain today, and most of these are severely degraded.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

This community was dominated by species characteristic of midwestern tallgrass prairie: big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). These species are present in today's remnants, but they are not always dominant. Other characteristic species that still occur in this community include rush (Juncus greenei), wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), Canada cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), early goldenrod (Solidago juncea), butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa), stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), fringed violet (Viola sagittata), bird's-foot violet (V. pedata), stiff-leaf aster (Ionactis linariifolius), hyssop-leaved boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium), and northern dewberry (Rubus flagellaris). Characteristic birds include vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), and bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus).

Best Time to See

This grassland can be beautiful throughout the growing season. In early spring, from April to June the yellow cinquefoils (Potentilla spp.) come into bloom. Visit from June through August to see yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), purple bird's-foot violet (Viola pedata), and bright orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). The fall brings a profusion of goldenrods, asters, and dramatic flowering grasses.

Hempstead Plains Grassland Images


International Vegetation Classification Associations

This New York natural community encompasses all or part of the concept of the following International Vegetation Classification (IVC) natural community associations. These are often described at finer resolution than New York's natural communities. The IVC is developed and maintained by NatureServe.

  • Little Bluestem - Indiangrass - Common Goldstar - Horseflyweed Grassland (CEGL006187 )

NatureServe Ecological Systems

This New York natural community falls into the following ecological system(s). Ecological systems are often described at a coarser resolution than New York's natural communities and tend to represent clusters of associations found in similar environments. The ecological systems project is developed and maintained by NatureServe.

  • Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Heathland and Grassland (CES203.895 )

Characteristic Species


Agalinis acuta

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly-weed)

Baptisia tinctoria (wild-indigo)

Dichanthelium depauperatum (poverty rosette grass)

Eupatorium hyssopifolium (hyssop-leaved thoroughwort)

Euthamia caroliniana (slender flat-topped-goldenrod)

Hypericum gentianoides (orange-grass)

Ionactis linariifolius

Juncus greenei (Greene's rush)

Panicum virgatum (switch grass)

Potentilla simplex (old-field cinquefoil)

Schizachyrium scoparium

Solidago juncea (early goldenrod)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass)

Symphyotrichum tenuifolium

Trichostema dichotomum (blue-curls)

Viola pedata

Similar Ecological Communities

  • Maritime grassland (guide)
  • Successional old field



Percent cover

This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Hempstead Plains Grassland. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.

Additional Resources


Blizzard, Alpheus W. 1931. Plant sociology and vegetational change on High Hill, Long Island, New York. Ecology 12(1):208-231.

Cain, S. A., M. Nelson, and W. McLean. 1937. Andropogonetum Hempsteadi: A Long Island grassland vegetation type. The American Midland Naturalist 18(3):334-350.

Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero (editors). 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke’s Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

Ferguson, William C. 1925. Ferns and flowering plants of the Hempstead Plains, Long Island, New York. Torreya 25(6):109-113.

Grossman, D. H., K. Lemon Goodin, and C. L. Reuss, editors. 1994. Rare plant communities of the conterminous United States: An initial survey. The Nature Conservancy. Arlington, VA. 620 pp.

Harper, R.M. 1911. The Hempstead Plains. A natural prairie on Long Island. Bulletin American Geographic Society 43:351-360.

Harper, R.M. 1912. The Hempstead Plains of Long Island. Torreya 12(12):277-287.

Harper, R.M. 1918. The vegetation of the Hempstead Plains. Mem. Torrey Botanical Club 17: 262-286.

Hicks, Henry. 1892. The flora of the Hempstead Plains, Long Island. Unpublished manuscript (thesis), Cornell University.

Jordan, M. J., B. Lund, and W. A. Jacobs. 2002. Effects of mowing, herbicide and fire on Artemisia vulgaris, Lespedeza cuneata and Euphorbia cyparissias at the
Hempstead Plains grassland, Long Island, New York. Text of poster prepared for the Northeast Natural History Conference, New York State Museum,
Albany N.Y., April 25-26, 2002. The Nature Conservancy, Long Island Chapter. Online. Available: (accessed 2004).

Kirby, J. 1905. Some plants of Hempstead Plains. The American Botanist 7:110-111.

McManus, Arthur T. No date. The Hempstead Plains - a vanishing heritage? Prepared for the citizens for Hempstead Plains.

NatureServe. 2015. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available

Neidich, Carole. 1980. The Hempstead Plains and the birdfoot violet. Long Island Forum XLIII(6):108-115.

Neidich-Ryder, C. and P. Kennelly. 2013. Mapping prairie remnants on the Hempstead Plains, Long Island, New York. Environ Monit Assess. Springer Science. Published online: 11 January 2014.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Seyfert, W. G. 1973. A study of the Hempstead Plains, Long Island, New York, and its vascular flora. M.S. thesis, C. W. Post College, Long Island University, Greenvale, NY.

Seyfert, Wayne G. No date. The Hempstead Plains America's first prairie. Nassau County History Society Journal. pp 3-16.

Stalter, R. 1981. Some ecological observations of Hempstead Plains, Long Island, New York. Proc. of the Northeastern Weed Science Society 35:101-106.

Stalter, R. and E.E. Lamont. 1987. Vegetation of Hempstead Plains, Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 114: 330-335.

Stalter, R. and W. G. Seyfert. 1989. "The Vegetation History of Hempstead Plains, New York" (1989). Proceedings of the North American Prairie Conferences. 56.

Watson, Winslow C. 1860. The plains of Long Island. C. Van Benthuysen.

da Silva Quintal, Sara N. 2011. Invasive Species Management Plan for Hempstead Plains at Nassau Community College, Garden City, New York. Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC., Melville, NY.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Aissa Feldmann

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 6, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Hempstead Plains grassland. Available from: Accessed March 22, 2019.

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