The latest development on the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora website is the addition of Virginia’s mosses and liverworts. Initial data comes from two papers by David Breil published in Banisteria (liverworts in vol. 8:3-28 (1996); mosses in vol. 21:3-53 (2003)) and by other data compiled by him personally and never published. This draft “Bryophyte Atlas of Virginia” became available to VBA and forms the initial distribution maps to which additional records are being added as the information becomes available. There are many sources of additional records available today that were not readily available to Dr. Breil. The addition of county dots will be relatively quick and easy, but supporting documentation, as well as habitat descriptions and other comments will be a long term endeavor.
On September 6, 2013, during a routine re-visit to a vegetation plot sampled many years ago, Virginia Natural Heritage Program ecologists Karen Patterson and Gary Fleming discovered a population of Houstonia montana (Roan Mountain Bluets) on a cliff in Grayson Highlands State Park. This species is a Southern Blue Ridge endemic of high-elevation outcrops and balds, occurring most notably on Roan Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, Bluff Mountain, and Threetop Mountain in northwestern North Carolina and northeastern Tennessee. The Virginia population represents a new northern range limit for the species.
Houstonia montana is federally listed as endangered. Specimens from the Virginia population examined by Alan S. Weakley of the University of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU) matched exactly material at NCU from various sites, including the type locality. Please see the individual map page for this species for more information.
We are very fortunate to have Dr. Harvey Ballard of Ohio University beginning a multi-year study of the violets of our region. Dr. Ballard is a veteran violet expert, having studied these enigmatic plants for most of his career. Using Mountain Lake Biological Station as a home base, Dr. Ballard is scoping out various violet “hotspots” and homing in on several specific projects for initial study.
Dr. Ballard is interested in all species of Viola, and initial reconnaissance has been exciting. The first trip identified Viola nephrophylla on the grounds of Mountain Lake Biological Station. Subsequent searching in fens at several locations in Southwest Virginia turned up similar looking plants, but only in sterile condition. Revisits in Spring 2014 to observe chasmogamous flowers will be needed to determine if we have a new native violet for Virginia.
A second area of study will focus on the disjunct shale barren populations of Viola pedatifida, at present known only from Alleghany and Bath counties, Virginia. Preliminary observation indicate that it differs in several subtle but potentially important ways from populations in the Midwest which Dr. Ballard has studies intensively in the past.
Anyone from this region who has looked at woodland blue violets has undoubtedly puzzled over the Viola palmata complex (brittoniana, palmata, subsinuata, and triloba). After seeing these in the field here in the Southern Appalachians, Dr. Ballard agrees that a coherent understanding is still lacking. What seems to hold elsewhere (especially the Northeast), is not so clearcut here. We can all look forward results of his morphometric, molecular, and population studies ever the next few years!