Swamp photo: Michael Terry

Anecdote from Chris Ludwig, Virginia botanist

In 1995 I visited an area north of Dry Creek in Lee County to see what plants might be found in this underexplored corner of our commonwealth. The aerial photographs had promise, and I hoped to find rare plants amid the forests and natural meadows of the site. Under the chinquapin oaks and white ashes, common herbs indicative of the limestone soils abounded. Armed with my Flora of West Virginia, by Strausbaugh and Core, I could key the rue anemone and the wild blue phlox easily enough. Here was meadow parsnip and the ubiquitous sweet vernal grass, species I also found in the West Virginia flora.

J. Christopher Ludwig, executive director of the Flora of Virginia Project Then I encountered a rocky ledge from which a beautiful and delicate blue-eyed grass met my gaze. No blue-eyed grass with near-white petals and whitened foliage was to be found in the West Virginia book, so I collected a sample. Later, back in the lab, I turned to my trusty Fernald—the eighth edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany—which covers the flora of the northeastern United States and Canada. Fernald didn’t let me down. There, on page 457, was my blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium albidum, described perfectly. The range given didn’t include Virginia, but that was okay, I had the Atlas of the Virginia Flora, by Harvill et al., to consult. This excellent work, which includes county range maps for all of Virginia’s native and naturalized species, disclosed that the plant had been collected in Virginia. Problem solved.

Next came a clover, similar to our weedy white clover but bearing long runners with floriferous tips. Fernald and the West Virginia flora were of no help. And I wasn’t in a region where the Flora of the Carolinas, by Radford, Ahles, and Bell, would work. Where to turn? Perhaps the Atlas would help. It listed a clover, Trifolium calcaricum, from Lee County that had not yet been included in a flora. To find a description of this species, I had to check Castanea, the journal of the Appalachian Botanical Club. On pages 282–286 of volume 57, an excellent description, photograph, and illustration provided by Collins and Wieboldt matched the plant I had found.

That day and on subsequent visits, I encountered other problem taxa—a rare panic grass, in the difficult Dichanthelium dichotomum group; a small mallow unknown in Virginia that I finally found in the Flora of the Great Plains; and a dropseed that doesn’t clearly match descriptions in any flora I could find. I had to search floras, guides, and journals high and low.

Postscript: It's 2013 and I have my Flora of Virginia in hand! I am eager to return to Lee County and revisit some of the fascinating plants at Dry Creek. I know it will be much easier to untangle any botanical mysteries I may encounter.

J. Christopher Ludwig
Executive Director and Co-Author

Regional Floras that help Virginia botanists and Virginia plant enthusiasts in plant identificationThese floras are good friends
to Virginia botanists, who, before
publicaion of the
Flora of Virginia,
needed to use these and many
other floras to identify plants.