Olmsted Hall of Biological Sciences

The Department of Biology is located in the Olmsted Hall of the Biological Sciences, overlooking Shakespeare Garden and the Priscilla Bullitt Collins Trail along the Fonteyn Kill. The building was named in honor of Louise MacCraken Olmsted (class of 1932), Nancy Olmsted, MD (class of 1960), and Robert G. Olmsted, former Trustee of the College. The Priscilla Bullitt Collins Trail is located in a historic Ecological Restoration site that was pioneered by Professor Edith Roberts in 1919. Recognized as one of the first restoration projects in the country to focus on native plant communities, it provides an important reference point for current restoration projects on the Preserve at Vassar.
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Ecological Preserve

The Preserve at Vassar, located a short distance from the Biology Department, is a 525-acre open space that is predominantly managed as an ecological preserve. The ecological preserve encompasses a variety of habitats, including streams, wetlands, ponds, forests, and old fields, and provides a broad array of educational opportunities for students. Also located on the Preserve, the Priscilla Bullitt Collins Field Station is used by faculty and students to conduct scientific research in areas such as ecology, animal behavior, biogeochemistry, hydrology, ecological restoration and management, and soils.


The Phytotron in Olmsted Hall is a modern facility consisting of 16 controlled-environment growth chambers. Students and faculty conduct experiments in the facility to achieve control of temperature, light, and humidity and to replicate differences in these variables and determine their impact on plants and animals.


The Olmsted Greenhouse houses the Biology Department teaching plant collection and supports faculty and student research. The diverse teaching collection includes more than 700 specimens from over 120 plant families. Orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and cacti, as well as some rare and unusual plants, are part of the collection. Students, faculty, and staff of Vassar College are welcome to visit the greenhouse. You can make an appointment by contacting the greenhouse via email at acontelmo@vassar.edu. View more information on the Vassar College Biology Greenhouse and Herbarium Facebook Page and the Vassar Greenhouse Instagram page.


Dating to the founding of Vassar College in 1865, the Vassar College herbarium holds over 15,000 specimens of vascular plants, bryophytes, and algae. Holdings are primarily from northeastern North America, and include collections made by several notable 19th-century botanists, and by many Vassar students. At present, the primary research foci of the herbarium are documentation of the 500+ species of vascular plants on The Preserve at Vassar, and digitization of the collection. Located in the basement of the Bridge Building for Laboratory Sciences near the Biology Greenhouse and Phytotron, the herbarium is available for use by Vassar faculty and students.