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Science, Art and History on Display at Flora of Virginia Exhibit

The Flora of Virginia exhibit at the Library of Virginia
The Flora of Virginia exhibit at the Library of Virginia.

A new exhibit at the Library of Virginia examines the art, science and history of the state’s diverse plant life. It’s part of the Flora of Virginia Project, which is continuing to educate the community about native plants following the 2012 publication of the Flora of Virginia. Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: See video of those involved in the Flora Project on Virginia Currents (TV) and find out about special programs (PDF) scheduled for the Library of Virginia’s exhibit, which runs through September 13, 2014.


Barbara Batson uses a drill to carefully open the panels of a wooden shipping crate. Inside is a centuries-old sculpture on loan from Oak Spring Garden Library.

Barbara Batson: As you can tell from the way it’s packed, it’s fragile because it’s paper mache, it’s Italian.

Batson is the exhibitions coordinator at the Library of Virginia. She’s joined by Bland Crowder, editor and associate director with the Flora Project. As curator of the exhibit, he searched across the state to find rare books, specimens, paintings and photographs that captured the history and beauty of Virginia’s natural environment.

Barbara Batson and Bland Crowder: There we go, so it’s the sex organs of a plant, plants do have sex organs . . .That’s right. It may have at one time had petals but they’re long gone. But here you have the stamens, five stamens and one pistil, the female part and around here, these are probably nectaries, or nectar glands.


Antinque Vasculum at Flora of Virginia exhibit
Antinque Vasculum, Flora of Virginia exhibit

 The Library of Virginia exhibit includes about 75 pieces. There’s a copy of the first edition Flora Virginica from 1743 and the more well-known second edition of 1762, both based on the research and specimens of Colonial botanist John Clayton. Also on display, the botanical guide Hortus Cliffortianus published in 1738 and listing plants found in Virginia, as well as brightly painted and scientifically accurate watercolors made by children from Northern Virginia’s Nourse family. Contemporary work includes photographs by Jackie Bailey Labovitz, who captures close-ups of native perennials during just the right moment of bloom, and sculptures by Lou Griner, who creates delicate scenes of wildlife, each piece meticulously formed with clay.  

Barbara Batson:  The central one is sort of her homage to the Spring Beauty, which is Claytonia Virginica.

The exhibit was three years in the making, but it took more than a decade to put together the book that inspired it.

Lou Griner sculpture
Lou Griner sculpture (louartmin.com)


Chris Ludwig: There’s many, many, many years of work into getting this book just right.

Chris Ludwig is Executive Director of the Flora Project Foundation and co-author of the new Flora of Virginia. He estimates that the publication  - the first update to the state’s Flora in 250 years - took about 19,000 work hours to produce. Its 1500 pages describe more than 3100 plant species. And artist Lara Gastinger headed a three-person team who made more than 1400 hand-drawn illustrations. While the book is highly technical, there’s a larger goal for the Flora Project says Ludwig, who’s also chief biologist with the state’s Natural Heritage Program.

Chris Ludwig: The idea that offering this book, bringing people into a greater understand of the natural world will ultimately lead to better conservation. The more people care about what’s around them; what grows around them, what animals are around them, the ecosystem they live within the better chance we have of doing real meaningful conservation in Virginia and hopefully, obviously, throughout the world.

In addition to reaching a wider audience through the Library of Virginia exhibit, The Flora Project is also working on an app that can be easily transported and updated, and may appeal to the next generation of botanists. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.