swamp photo: Michael Terry

Who Needs the Flora of Virginia

The Flora of Virginia describes almost 3,200 taxa in almost 200 families, with 1,400 original illustrations. The Flora makes it easier than before to identify Virginia plants. But it also has great applied value.

The new Flora:

Provides baseline information on the state’s plant resources—important information for educators, scientists, land-use planners, and amateur naturalists.

Will prove an essential diagnostic tool for monitoring environmental change in Virginia, including shifts in species distribution, vegetational responses to climate change, behavior of nonnative species, and extinctions.

Includes new discoveries for the state and incorporates state-of-the-art biosystematics from the latest approaches in field botany and molecular taxonomy.

Will deepen respect for the beauty and diversity of Virginia’s plant resources and strengthen the scientific basis for conservation measures.

Here are some groups of people who are using the Flora.


Virginia has a rich tradition of botanical exploration, but until now, to identify a Virginia plant might have required the use of four or more floras written for another state or region. To characterize the plant community of a site, an ecologist might have had to consult 10,000 pages of text!

But most of those floras were out of date. Since 1985, 50 plant species have been discovered in Virginia, some of which may be new to science. Many species are obscure and difficult to identify using the current literature. And recent advances in genetics have revealed intriguing taxonomic relationships. For hundreds of our plants the scientific name has changed for this and other reasons. The Flora of Virginia, which incorporates these developments, is a very welcome addition to the Virginia botanist’s tool kit.

Before the Flora of Virginia was published, co-author Chris Ludwig wrote a brief essay that shows his frustration in identifying, without a Virginia manual, just a small number of specimens from Lee County.


Virginia gardeners are planting more native plants than ever. They are plagued by invasive nonnatives. They are concerned that showpiece lawns and nonnative ornamentals so often require fertilizers and pesticides that eventually make their way into our rivers and estuaries. They know the ecological value of planting species that evolved here, that they're a better food source for pollinators. And more and more often, nurseries are labeling plants NATIVE. Natives are poised to become the stars of Virginia gardens.

The Flora is a good gardening reference. It can, of course, help in determining whether a plant is native (nonnatives are marked with an asterisk in species descriptions). It is useful in determining what species are likely to be weedy. It can be used to make decisions about cultivars, which may be from native stock. And the detailed habitat and status information, found in each species description, can help in purchasing and siting decisions.

Many garden clubs, including the Garden Club of Virginia, supported publication of the Flora.

Decision makers

Effective decisions on zoning, regulation, legislation, and open-space conservation must be reached using reliable, complete information. In the absence of a Virginia flora, decisionmakers’ understanding of the state’s vegetation and landscape was compromised. So, therefore, were their decisions on land use, conservation, and business. The new Flora supplies the most current and accurate information available.

Students and educators

Without a Virginia flora, those studying or teaching botany in the state were disadvantaged. The content and format of the Flora of Virginia were conceived to help educators introduce Virginia plants to students.

Classroom activities are already being conceptualized that will use the Flora. Activities will be keyed into Virginia’s standards of learning and welcoming the educational approach urged by Richard Louv in his Last Child in the Woods.

Also, the Flora’s Internet presence will be strengthened. Resources will include forums for educators, students, and other users of the Flora. The Flora app will make the manual's information more easily accessible, especially in the field.

See how the Flora will be useful to teachers seeking botanical approaches to meeting Virginia’s Standards of Learning for science.


A herbarium is an archive of plant specimens, preserved, identified, and mounted, for study and plant identification. Herbaria are usually affiliated with universities or museums, and, during research for the Flora, the Flora Project made extensive use of the herbaria at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, Longwood University, and the University of North Carolina.

The Flora of Virginia is proving a key reference at herbaria as well, even those in other states.


Pollution, a burgeoning population, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and invasive species affect us all, but efforts to solve these problems are diminished by lack of knowledge. The Flora will heighten Virginians' awareness of the plants they encounter daily—including the problematic ones. In doing so, it will foster respect for the beauty and diversity of Virginia’s flora, respect vital to conservation of the plant life that sustains us all.