Research Grant Program


The VNPS Research Grant Program awards funds for well-defined projects whose results can be evaluated, and which address the VNPS Mission and Goals. Research grants should advance our understanding of the biology of Virginia native plants and their relationship to their ecosystems; teach students about the importance of Virginia native plants and habitat preservation; measure the benefits of native plant habitats to the economic and environmental health of the Commonwealth; or address similar topics.

Todd Prairie, a grassland remnant, in Louisa Co. & the rare Purple Milkweed from Nelson Co. studied with the help of VNPS grants to Center for Urban Habitats; photos: Devin Floyd.

Grants are made once each year to principal investigators through their academic institution or non-profit organization. Individuals are not eligible.

Generally, grants will be for projects up to one year in duration and up to $15,000, although in the past the average grant amount has been closer to $5,000.  We anticipate awarding two or three grants per year, and the program is open to undergraduate and graduate student research under a principal investigator.

Grants could:

  • Provide seed money for preliminary research that could support applications for more substantial follow-on grants from other sources, or
  • Provide stipends and expense money for post-secondary and graduate student research, or
  • Fund rigorous undergraduate or citizen science projects.

Grant Application Requirements

Research proposals must be submitted to the VNPS Grants Manager no earlier than December 1, 2024 and no later than February 1, 2025.

VNPS does not require proposals to follow a specific format; however, each organization is expected to submit a written proposal that includes the information listed below, in the order listed. Please combine all the parts of the application into a single PDF file which includes the following items:

  1. A one-page summary cover letter, addressed to the VNPS Grants Manager.
  2. Each page in the proposal should include the name of the applicant, proposal title, and a page number. Limit: 20 pages.
  3. A complete description of the activities and tasks that will be accomplished during the project and by whom. This should include a timeline with milestone and deliverable dates.
  4. Plans for evaluating the project’s results. 
  5. A description of the project deliverables. Deliverables must at least include a final report; applications should indicate what it will address.  At the end of the overall project, we encourage publication of the results in a peer-reviewed journal.
  6. A detailed financial plan that includes a breakdown of costs and the total cost, the specific amount requested, other supplemental funding sources (if applicable), and provisions for contingencies.  VNPS does not fund overhead costs due to the limited funds available.
  7. Plans for sustaining the project after grant funds expire, if applicable.
  8. A resume of the principal investigator who will conduct the proposed program. If the principal investigator is a student, also include a brief resume of the faculty member who will provide oversight of the principal investigator. Limit: 2 pages apiece.
  9. A letter from an official of the organization stating that the organization has approved the proposed program and identifying the faculty member who will provide oversight of the principal investigator if he or she is a student.

Proposals, questions, and correspondence concerning grants should be submitted to:
Kevin Howe
VNPS Grants Manager and First Vice President

Grant Awards

Applications will be reviewed by the VNPS Research Grants Committee and winners selected by the VNPS Board of Directors.  Applicants will be notified in writing of the decision of the Board within 30 to 60 days after the application deadline. VNPS will not provide critiques of unsuccessful applications.

Award funds will be forwarded to the recipient organization as stated in the award letter.  For multi-year projects, only the current year will be funded. A separate application for continued funding must be submitted, with no guarantee of continued support.

In 2020 VNPS established the Mary Pockman Memorial Research Grant Award in honor of her contributions as a founding member and past president of VNPS.

Grant Reporting Requirements

Grantees must submit a financial report within 90 days after completion of the project, or by 15 months after the award, whichever is earlier.  Time extensions will be considered but should be submitted before the twelve-month period has passed. Grantees must submit a report suitable for publication within 6 months after completion of the project, or by 18 months after the award, whichever is earlier.  All publications resulting from work funded by the grant must acknowledge the financial support of VNPS.  Grantees may also be requested by VNPS to make a Zoom, oral or poster presentation to VNPS upon completion of the project.  VNPS will pay all expenses related to such a presentation.

Grant Award History


  • An Assessment of the Grasslands in Eight Counties of the South-Central Virginia Piedmont, submitted by Devin Floyd for the Center for Urban Habitats and Dr. Mary Jane Epps of Mary Baldwin University. Grant Amount: $14,750. The Piedmont Grassland region is arguably the most lived-in and agriculturally altered ecological region of the Eastern United States. But pockets of unique and remarkable floral diversity have been found in the Piedmont, in major part, through the work of these two researchers, over the past six years. VNPS has previously funded, in part, their county-by-county survey of these remnant habitats and rare or uncommon species assemblages. This year’s VNPS funding continues this work in eight counties of Central Virginia including Amherst, Appomattox, Campbell, Fauquier, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Nottoway. Their goal is to identify a minimum of fifty high-quality grassland sites in this area while working toward the long-term objective of protection of such sites before all are lost. ‘We may have less than .0001 percent of this grassland community left.”
  • Conservation genetic analysis of Ozark Milkvetch (Astragalus distortus; Fabaceae), a Critically Imperiled Virginia Native Plant, submitted by Dr. Andrea Weeks and master’s candidate, Emily Poindexter of George Mason University. Grant Amount: $6,098. These funds will help support Ms. Poindexter’s thesis research on the rare Ozark Milkvetch (Astragalus distortus), a member of the Legume family found only in bright sunlit Shale Barren communities while continuing Dr. Weeks research on the curiously disjunct distribution of this plant. It is reported from nine southern mid-west states and as a disjunct in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. It is not found in the ‘in-between’ states of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Mississippi – a big gap. Data on its current distribution in VA, WV and MD is lacking. The research goals supported, in part, by this VNPS grant will continue the search for new populations and obtain leaf material for genetic analysis to assess the current taxonomic status of the disjunct populations of the Ozark Milkvetch while seeking understanding of the genetic diversity within and among the Mid-Atlantic populations.
  • A Taxonomic Treatment Of The Violets (Violaceae) Of Virginia And North Carolina, submitted by Dr. Harvey Ballard of Ohio University. Grant Amount: $5,390. Dr. Ballard has spent over 45 years of his botanical career studying eastern North American violets (Viola spp.) with several publications to his name. His Viola research includes extensive field exploration, herbarium studies as well as raising violets in the lab with the broad focus of traditional systematics, phylogenetics, molecular ecology, population and conservation genetics. He also maintains an interesting Viola website - "Violets of the Great Plains and Eastern North America". Virginia and North Carolina individually possess great taxonomic diversity in vascular plants which is echoed in violet diversity, with each of the two states exhibiting the greatest violet diversity in eastern North America. VNPS funding will help support Ballard’s broader two-year research project focusing on herbarium, field and laboratory studies with the objective to comprehensively characterize violet diversity in Virginia and North Carolina. His ultimate goal is the production of a full taxonomic treatment of violets in the two-state region.


  • Clone Or Flower? – Uncovering The Population Consequences Of Clonal And Sexual Reproduction In Plants, submitted by Dr. Harmony Dalgleish, Dept. of Biology, William and Mary. Grant Amount: $10,913. About 80% of plants can do some form of clonal reproduction, whether it is through corms, bulbs, rhizomes or budding from roots. Despite this, most ecological models of plant population growth completely ignore clonal propagation and focus solely on sexual reproduction via seed. The goal of Dr. Dalgleish’s research aims to fill this gaping hole in our understanding of plant population dynamics by investigating the roles of both clonal and sexual reproduction for driving the population growth of an important and widespread Virginia native plant, Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Dr. Dalgleish has spent the past 11 years constructing a population model which points to the importance of a clonal pathway, but the data is incomplete. Using a combination of field studies, population genetics and modeling tools, this Grant will help her undertake a more thorough investigation to quantify the clonal structure and understand how clones reproduce and spread or decline within milkweed populations. This Grant will help support the genetic analysis necessary to fully characterize the population dynamics of common milkweed.
  • Climate change impacts on seed dispersal in a common Virginia native wildflower, Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), submitted by Melissa A. Burt, Ph.D. Candidate under Dr. Susan Whitehead, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech. Grant Amount: $6,656. Ongoing climate change in Virginia may have drastic impacts on our native plant assemblages. In Virginia’s deciduous forests many of the early spring ephemerals are ant-dispersed yet very little is known about how this multi- dimensional climate change will impact them. These seed dispersal mutualisms with ants and our native wildflowers may be especially at risk under climate change due to the potential differences in mobility of the plants and their ant seed dispersers. Disruption or loss of ant seed dispersal services could result in important changes to the dynamics of these plant populations including changes to their distribution and survival. Ms. Burt’s grant will support research involving experiments of both precipitation amount and frequency in addition to temperature in seed dispersal mesocosms to understand the potential effects of the multidimensional changes to climate on this important mutualism. This work should provide much needed insights into how climate change might be expected to affect this important group of plants in Virginia’s deciduous forests as well as providing important insights into how seed dispersal mutualisms might respond to ongoing climate change.


  • Virginia’s Temperate Forest Lianas: Distribution, Diversity, and Density as Related to Land Use, Land Cover and Landscape Configuration, submitted by Dr. Lynn Reisler, Department of Geography, Virginia Tech. Grant Amount: $5,305. Lianas are woody ground rooted-climbing plants that utilize trees to ascend into the canopy to capture sunlight. Dr. Reisler’s research will advance our understanding of native Virginia lianas through data collection of their distribution, density, and diversity in Virginia’s Ridge and Valley ecosystems. This will be the first formal study to address the diversity, relationships to host trees, and preferred habitat of Virginia native lianas. Additionally, her team will assess possible threats by non-native lianas and land use. This pilot study will provide a robust dataset for rich future work along this vein. Scientific outcomes should be of interest to land managers and the general public, whose perception of woody vines may not consider their ecological benefits. The project will also provide training and mentoring for at least three students (one graduate and two undergraduate) from the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, with additional volunteer opportunities.
  • An Assessment of Native Grasslands of the East-Central Virginia Piedmont, submitted by Co-Principal Investigators, Devin Floyd from the Center for Urban Habitats (Charlottesville, VA) and Dr. Mary Jane Epps from Mary Baldwin University (Staunton, VA). Grant Amount: $14,750. Despite nearly 500 years of negative human impacts, the Piedmont region still hosts an extraordinary array of natural plant communities. These researchers will study the native grasslands in the Eastern half of the Central Virginia Piedmont, to the Fall Line. The primary objective will be to assess the quantity, distribution, and condition of unplanted, high quality grassland communities in a 9-county area. The Piedmont hosts substantial grassland diversity and their research will consider a variety of types, from wet prairies to dry upland savannas. This data should shed light on the value of conserving existing remnant grasslands and the benefits of restoring adjacent landscapes that are biologically impoverished. This research aims to underscore the value and time sensitive nature of a region-wide effort to protect and expand the overlooked and forgotten remains of natural Piedmont grasslands.


  • An Assessment of Native Grasslands of the Central Virginia Piedmont, Center for Urban Habitats, Charlottesville, submitted by Devin Floyd, Director. Grant Amount: $14,750.
    This project will study native grasslands in the central Virginia Piedmont with a primary objective to assess the quantity, distribution, and condition of unplanted, high quality grassland communities in an 8-county area. The Piedmont hosts substantial grassland diversity and the data should shed light on the value of conserving existing remnant grasslands and the benefits of restoring adjacent landscapes that are biologically impoverished. The research will help to underscore the value and time sensitive nature of a region-wide effort to protect and expand the overlooked and forgotten remains of natural Piedmont grasslands. This project is the recipient of the 2021 Mary Pockman Memorial Research Grant.
  • Wing-Mediated Pollination in Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) and Lilies (Lilium spp.), Mary Baldwin University, Staunton, submitted by Dr. Mary Jane Epps. Grant Amount: $6,958.
    The project will investigate the ecology of a little-known mode of pollination in Virginia’s flora, with a focus on native species of azalea (Rhododendron spp.) and lily (Lilium spp.). Previous studies have found that flame azalea (R. calendulaceum) is unusually specialized in its pollination, depending almost entirely on large butterflies despite being frequented by a wide range of non-pollinating flower visitors. This present study will investigate the ecology of wing-mediated pollination in some of the most charismatic members of our flora, the azaleas and lilies.


  • Recovering Native Plant Diversity in the Piedmont: Gilbert’s Corner Habitat Restoration and Native Plant Demonstration Site - $5,508. George Mason University, Andrea Weeks. The project will initiate a long-term floristic study of Gilbert’s Corner in Loudoun County, as a collaboration between the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium at George Mason University and the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), to support ongoing habitat restoration at the site and to educate the public about the importance of conserving local biodiversity. This project is the recipient of the inaugural Mary Pockman Memorial Research Grant.
  • The Composition, Distribution, and Status of Native Grasslands of the Northern Virginia Piedmont - $6,400. The Clifton Institute, J. Berton Harris. This project will study native grasslands in the northern Virginia Piedmont to characterize the composition and status of these habitats, refine our understanding of the relationship between biological and chemical soil traits and grassland quality, and identify threats to the grasslands and potential conservation solutions to prevent further species declines.
  • Propagation Methods for the American Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) - $4,805. Christopher Newport University, Janet Steven and Carter Stanton. This project will study the success of various propagation methods of the American fringe tree. The project will also survey and monitor Emerald Ash Borer infestation of fringe trees at the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen.


  • The influence of toxic compounds on nectar components: A genus wide comparison of Asclepias spp. native to Virginia - $5,288. College of William & Mary, Harmony Dalgleish and Nichole Gustafson. This study looks at how cardenolides affect the nectar chemistry across the genus Asclepias and how resulting differences in composition of the nectar may alter pollinator behavior.
  • Drivers of tree mortality in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Ecoregion - $5,000. Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Alyssa Terrell and Kristina Anderson-Teixeira. This project focuses on tree mortality in Virginia’s Blue Ridge ecoregion, with an emphasis on understanding the factors that make trees vulnerable to mortality. The census is within a 26-ha forest dynamic plot located at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal. View the final report for this research grant award.
  • Securing Virginia's plant biodiversity heritage for the future: A new life for the Lord Fairfax Community College Herbarium - $6,712. George Mason University, Andrea Weeks. In 2017, the curator of LFCC Herbarium at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia, retired after more than 40 years of service. His institution does not plan to hire another faculty member to curate or use this herbarium for research. Transferring the collection now to GMU will ensure LFCC specimens remain in good repair, can be included in the ongoing National Science Foundation-funded herbarium digitization efforts, and can continue to be used in botanical discovery in the future.


  • Integrative taxonomic studies on the Viola edulis species group in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains, with emphasis on Virginia populations - $8,690. Ohio University, Harvey Ballard. This research will complete critical studies on multiple undescribed violet species in the enigmatic "Viola edulis" species group in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, with emphasis on populations (which appear to represent two species) in Virginia.
  • Early invasion dynamics of wavyleaf basketgrass (Oplismenus undulatifolius), a high-risk species in Virginia’s forest understories - $5,671. University of Richmond, Carrie Wu. This project will analyze the spatial genetic structure of wavyleaf basketgrass in the mid-Atlantic region, to identify the invasion routes and relative importance of localized spread vs. long-distance dispersal to successful colonization across the landscape.
  • Survey of fungi populations growing in American and Chinese chestnut trees - $5,000. Shenandoah University, Teresa Zielinski. Undergraduate project. This project will compile a list of fungi that grow in the American, Chinese, and hybrid chestnut trees in the hopes of isolating a single endophyte or a group of endophytes that could serve as a biological control against chestnut blight. The results will provide useful information to the American chestnut restoration community because the compilation of our list could ultimately assist in our fight against C. parasitica, the cause of chestnut blight. Our data will also provide useful information regarding the biology of endophyte populations in different tree species.


  • Integrative taxonomic studies with the Unified Species Concept reveal four evolutionary species in Virginia populations of the Early Violet (Viola subsinuata) - $6,010.00. Ohio University, Harvey Ballard.  This research will complete studies to document geographic distributions of four phenotypes of "Viola subsinuata" in Virginia; provide a detailed analysis of potential niche differentiation among the phenotypes; and permit objective evaluation of the taxonomic and evolutionary status of these phenotypes based on morphological traits, reproductive behavior, genetic differentiation and microhabitat preference.
  • Biotic Disturbances and Tree Mortality in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Ecoregion - $5,000.00. Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Kristina Anderson-Teixeira.  This proposal focused on the effects insect pests and pathogens on forests of Virginia's Blue Ridge ecoregion. Insect pests and pathogens are a leading cause of mortality in the region, yet their impacts have yet to be quantified. Researchers conducted an annual tree mortality census of a large forest plot at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. They will use data from this plot and others throughout the region to quantify the impacts of biotic disturbances on forest mortality, biodiversity, productivity and biomass. This study will help improve general scientific understanding of the net impact of biotic disturbances on forest diversity, structure, and function.
  • Pollination in the Piedmont: towards an understanding of the beneficial effects of native plants and pollutants in Ashland, Virginia - $3,990.00. Randolph-Macon College, Nicholas Ruppel.  Educating the public on the value of native plant- pollinator relationships will promote the use of local green spaces as refuges for native plants and their pollinators. This project will assess the diversity of insect pollinators on native plants in Ashland, Virginia. This will be a collaborative project involving undergraduate students and faculty from Randolph-Macon College, as well as elementary school students from Gandy Elementary School. Several modes of insect identification (e.g. digital photography, trapping, etc.) will be used to assess the pollinator abundance and diversity in the R-MC Brian Wesley Moores Native Plant Garden.


  • Patterns of introduction and dispersal during the emerging invasion of wavyleaf basketgrass (Oplismenus undulatifolius) into Virginia’s forest understories - $5,327.00. Submitted by Dr. Carrie Wu of the University of Richmond. This project attempted to answer fundamental questions about the genetic structure of the invasive species wavyleaf basketgrass, which is in the still early rapid expansion-of-range phase of invading new habitat.  Outcomes may help to stop or slow the spread of this plant and may also provide a theoretical framework applicable to other invaders in early stages of range expansion.
  • Estimating invasion risk in native forest in Northwestern Virginia - $4,700.00. Submitted by Dr. Iara Lacher of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This project utilized advances in geospatial data combined with citizen science efforts to develop a measure of invasion risk in native forests. It developed models that relate forest patch characteristics with land use and land cover across the area and conduct surveys involving interns, students, and landowners.
  • Investigation of morphological, ecological, and genetic species boundaries in Phlox & glaberrima and P. carolina in the Southern Appalachians - $5,000.00. Submitted by Dr. Gerald Bresowar of Emory & Henry College. This project worked with undergraduate students to perform a systematic study of two species of Phlox that Weakley et al. declared were in need of study.  It is possible that the morphological, ecological and gene sequence data might provide clarity and new insights and, ultimately, better means of distinguishing the two.


In 2015, the initial year of the VNPS Research Grant Program, two awards were given, each in the amount of $5,000. 

  • One proposal, submitted by Dr. Alycia Crall and Michelle Prysby, Extension faculty members in the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, funded a project titled “Improving Knowledge of Native Plant Species Distributions in Virginia: A Citizen Science Project for Virginia Master Naturalist Volunteers.”  Their project was to develop a citizen science program in collaboration with the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage Division to monitor the distribution and threats to rare and threatened plant populations in the state. They sought to discover the current status and distribution of 30 rare and threatened plant species in Virginia and identify the primary threats to those plants using citizen science techniques.
  • The second proposal selected was called, “Virginia’s Virtual Herbarium: Liberating Big Data for Our Native Plants.”  This proposal was submitted by Dr. Andrea Weeks, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium at George Mason University.  Her grant supplemented funding from the National Science Foundation to implement high-throughput, digital imaging of specimens from 11 Virginia herbaria and citizen-science transcription.  This initiative helped create a publicly accessible, online herbarium of nearly 300,000 Virginia vascular plant specimens.