By Marion Lobstein
My interest in plants goes back to my childhood exploring and earning Girl Scout nature badges. As an undergraduate at Western Carolina University in the 1960s, I took my first plant identification class and really got hooked. Later, At UNC-Chapel Hill, I had the opportunity to take a plant taxonomy class with Ritchie Bell, co-author of the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas.
When I moved to Northern Virginia in the 1970s, one of my first questions was “Where is the Flora for Virginia?” At that time, the only available Virginia-wide plant manual was the 1762 Flora Virginica.
As I became active in the Virginia Academy of Science (VAS), I learned of the effort to develop a new Flora for Virginia. And when I helped start the Virginia Native Plant Society (formerly the Virginia Wildflower Preservation Society), one of our goals was to support the development of a modern Flora for Virginia.
I began teaching plant identification and field botany courses at Northern Virginia Community College and Blandy Experimental Farm in the 1990s and 2000s. Without a flora reference for Virginia, I “made do” with the Flora of West Virginia.
We needed a modern Flora for Virginia, although in 2000, “a comprehensive manual of Virginia plants was still a distant, and dauntingly difficult, prospect.” 1
So in 2001, Chris Ludwig and I helped start the Flora of Virginia Project with the support of many others in the Virginia botanical community. Dedicated scientists, botanists, naturalists, artists, donors, individuals, and organizations made enormous contributions to the Project over the following years.
Finally, in 2012, the Flora came to life when the Flora Project published the first Flora of Virginia print edition by Alan S. Weakly, J. Cristopher Ludwig, and John F. Townsend. This encyclopedic volume, including over 3,000 taxa and 1,400 illustrations, was recognized as the authoritative botanical reference for Virginia. The print edition was followed in 2017 with the release of the Flora Mobile App for Android and IOS, which continues to be revised and updated.
Now in 2021, it has been two decades since I became involved with the Flora Project, and we continue to promote conservation, knowledge, and education about Virginia’s native flora.
In September of this year, the Flora Project Education Committee released a series of seven online Educational Video Modules which cover a broad range of topics to be used for outreach and educational purposes. Each video module covers a topic area related to understanding and using the Flora such as Basic Botany, Taxonomy, Keying, Plant Families, and Habitats.
I am confident that the Flora Project will continue its mission to “inspire conservation of Virginia’s native flora through education, outreach, and production of the Flora of Virginia” for many years to come.
1 Flora of Virginia, p. 21