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Botanists Press On Despite Low Funding

The Foundation of the Flora of Virginia Project, a nonprofit created one year ago, will need an estimated five years and $1.7 million to complete the plant guide by 2007. The DCR has agreed to provide space, equipment and staff for the endeavor, as well as to allow Ludwig to devote $250,000 worth of his time to it. Finding the rest of the money is entirely up to Ludwig and the foundation. Thus far, donations (mostly from environmental organizations) total about $50,000.

Nevertheless, the project will go on, one plant at a time. "We needed a decent guide to the flora of Virginia, which doesn't exist," says Ludwig. The only existing catalog is a little out of date — it was published 260 years ago, when the head of state was England's King George II.

Currently, he says, people interested in identifying plants in Virginia must tote around guides from Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina — and those guides are 20 to 25 years old. "This one'll be better," he says of Virginia's future guide, which will include detailed descriptions and illustrations of about 3,800 kinds of plants.

Ludwig enjoys getting his hands dirty working on it. A few weeks ago, "we went out and did a little botany," at the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, he says cheerfully. Ludwig gathered plants, consulted books and began drafting text for the guide. In one day, he finished writing descriptions for five species. "So it's slow," he admits.

When Ludwig isn't peering at plants, he's searching for knowledgeable volunteers to work on the guide. For instance, he recently found an illustrator who has offered to draw all the book's ferns free. Ordinarily, that quantity of scientific illustration work would cost $5,000 to $10,000, he says, "because they have to be right. You can't fake it." Also, an advisory board of 49 volunteers is helping to field-test the guide and write some of the text.

A comprehensive guide will be valuable to more than just botanists, he explains. "It expedites good decision-making," Ludwig says. "Where do you put the shopping mall and which patch of forest do you protect?"

— M.S.S.

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