Definitive State Plant Guide

May 30, 2013

The last time the state of Virginia had its own, definitive plant guide was 1762, with the book “Flora Virginica.” Now, after more than a decade in the making, the volume has finally been updated. 

Flora of Virginia offers a state-of-the art guide to nearly 32-hundred plant species in 200 families. The book features identification keys, cutting edge taxonomy, and detailed habitat information….with a pretty thorough description of each plant.

Co author and botanist John Townsend,  with the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, says each entry took nearly 8 hours of work…which is why it took more than a decade to finish the book.

"We had to procure actual specimens of these plants to get to our illustrators, so they could be correctly depicted in the book.  A lot of research had to go into finding the correct scientific name for these species as a whole, a long litany of rules that internationally people use to designate species names.  But probably the largest amount of time was devoted to actually developing the descriptions of the plants themselves, pretty complex description of everything. Everything from the roots to the flowers and the seed and everything in between," said Townsend.

To up the fanfare surrounding this new edition, you never know when you might run into the likes of Colonial Virginia Botanist John Clayton who hadn’t been heard from since 1773. His appearance now is channeled by historical actor Richard Cheatham—complete with costume presentations as he makes connections between botany then…and botany now.

"My passion has become over the years the collecting of plants native to this colony yet unknown to the world and so I have taken into the forest and the meadows and up the rivers and so forth in search of such things," said Richard Cheatham as John Clayton.

The price tag for the book is $80, and there aren’t many copies left.  But you won’t need to wait another 250 years to get your hands on the book--- there are already plans for a second printing and work is underway to go digital, with an app for tablet computers and smart phones—making the material even more searchable.