Category Archives: News

Bryophytes (an update)

We’ve come a long way since March 2014! Through collaboration with the Consortium of North American Bryophyte Herbaria, VBA was able to download all Virginia records on their bryophyte portal at that time. This effectively doubled the number of taxa in the Digital Atlas and added many hundreds of county records. Gary Fleming untangled the considerable problem of synonymy and names that have gone out of use. With volunteer assistance from Abby Hyduke, these were all mapped rather quickly. Many new records continue to come in due to a resurgence of interest in Virginia bryophytes. Principal collectors have been: John Townsend (state-wide), Tom Wieboldt and Ralph Lutts (southwestern mountains, primarily), John Bunch (Coastal Plain), and most significantly, the prolific collecting of Helen Hamilton in the Coastal Plain and, to a lesser extent, in other physiographic provinces. A highlight of this effort came in May 2016 when DCR-Natural Heritage contracted Dr. Paul Davison for a week of fieldwork to visit areas expected to be bryophyte “hotspots”. This yielded several state records including the very rare species, Lejeunea blomquistii, and a second record for Drepanolejeunea appalachiana.


One of the biggest challenges ahead is the addition of images for the moss and liverwort taxa. Field images are nice, but to actually be useful, microscope images are needed to reveal the identifying characters. This image of the common liverwort of decorticated wood, Nowellia curvifolia, is an example of a species that is too small to reveal its intricate leaves even in a close-up habitat image.


Lastly, habitat data is being added slowly through review of collection data on existing specimens, but this is often sketchy. It is hoped that more can be added from first-hand experience as we become familiar with these beautiful little members of the Virginia flora.

Bryophytes (under development)

081909d_NoFkStonyCr010The 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.

Houstonia montana (Roan Mountain Bluets) added to Virginia Flora

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.

Revisiting Virginia’s Violets

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.

Viola pedatifida, chasmogamous flowers © Irv T. Wilson

Summer foliage, cleistogamous phase © Tom Wieboldt

Summer foliage, cleistogamous phase
© Tom Wieboldt

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!

Study of Virginia Paper Birch underway

The appropriate level at which to treat members of the North American Paper Birch complex (Betula papyrifera sensu lato) continues to be a difficult and controversial question. In recent years, the isolated Virginia populations of this northern tree have been widely treated as Betula cordifolia (or Betula papyrifera var. cordifolia, depending on one’s taxonomic outlook). Yet the Flora of North American (Vol. 3) also maps Betula papyrifera (sensu stricto) in Virginia, and observations have suggested that our trees often have contradictory or mixed characters that make unequivocal placement difficult. A recent blog post by Devin Floyd (, describing a tree in Augusta County with characters that seem to fully match Betula papyrifera, drove home the need for a comprehensive reassessment of Virginia paper birch.

Consequently, the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, with assistance from Chip Morgan and the botany staff at Shenandoah National Park, has initiated a project to collect morphological data on Virginia paper birch through field visits of selected populations and a review of existing in-state herbarium material. These data will be analyzed in an attempt to determine the degree of variation among our populations, and how many taxa should be recognized. The project may take a while since the herbaria of Longwood University (FARM) and George Mason University (GMUF), both repositories for large numbers of paper birch specicmens, are both under renovation and inaccessible until later this year. Results will be posted when available.


Welcome to the New and Improved Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora

Although the site may look much the same, we have worked with RYP Marketing, Inc. to implement a number of changes and new features that will provide users with greater functionality and more complete data. First and foremost, the Habitat and Common Name fields have been populated for nearly all taxa. In addition, a new field, “Flora of Virginia Name/Status,” has been added to provide users with crosswalks to the treatments in the recently published Flora of Virginia manual. The “Comments” section has been fleshed out for many taxa, particularly those for which our taxonomic treatment varies from the Flora’s. Other new features and improvements include:

– improved Search function
– ability for users to generate a PDF checklist of the full Digital Atlas flora (see “Products” on right sidebar)
– annotated list of Excluded Taxa (viewable/downloadable PDF) – on main menu bar
– excerpts from earlier hard-copy editions (viewable/downloadable PDF) – on main menu bar
– a biography of Atlas founder Alton M. Harvill, Jr. (viewable/downloadable PDF) – on main menu bar
– updated information in all the “About” pages (on main menu bar)

Last but not least, we have added this News and Announcements section so that we can better share information about this site and botanical activity in Virginia.

Please read the new “About” documents for much more information about the current VBA organization, the Digital Atlas, and our relationship with the Flora of Virginia Project that has made possible and led to this site revision.

Update, 7-12-13: We are now pleased to offer the Digital Atlas maps in PDF format. For information about this document and how to order, please see the notice under “Products” on the right sidebar.