mountaintop photo: Michael Terry

Flora of Virginia: Virginia botany; Virginia plants

The diversity of living forms in Virginia is unsurpassed in any temperate area of comparable size. This diversity is the result of a complex history of evolution and migration among plant and animal species that has unfolded over many millennia on a varied land surface and under changing climatic conditions. In addition, for at least 10,000 years humans have influenced the composition and distribution of life in Virginia.

As a result of these phenomena nearly 3,200 species of native and naturalized vascular plants are found in the commonwealth. Only 12 U.S. states have more species, and they are all larger than Virginia.

Our mountainous west with its varied topography, our Piedmont with its complex geology, and our Coastal Plain with its myriad wetland types provide a rich array of habitats for many fascinating plants. These range from the iconic southern Spanish moss draping the baldcypresses in Virginia Beach to the spruce forests of Highland County, providing an impression of northern wilderness, from sea oats stabilizing dunes along the Atlantic to the Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchids gracing prairielike barrens along the Clinch River.