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Book Documents Nearly 3,000 Arkansas Plants

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Arkansas Vascular Flora Committee (AVFC) recently announced the release of a new book: the “Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Arkansas”. This is the most comprehensive accounting of the wild plants of Arkansas ever published and summarizes nearly 200 years of data on the state’s flora.

“Vascular plants” include most of the plants you see every day. The term “vascular” refers to the internal tissues that transport water, minerals, and photosynthetic materials throughout their roots, stems, and leaves. Plants with vascular tissues, often called the “higher plants”, make up the majority of species found on the Earth. Nonvascular, or “lower”, plants (like algae, mosses, and liverworts) lack such conducting tissues.

So how many kinds of vascular plants are found in the wild in Arkansas, and where are they located? The newly-published “Atlas” documents 2,892 within its 709 pages. Each species is presented along with a county-level distribution map showing where it has been “vouchered” (officially documented by the collection of a pressed and dried herbarium specimen). These maps are the result of nearly 200 years of collecting by hundreds of professional and amateur botanists, including many students at Arkansas colleges and universities. In fact, hundreds of thousands of such specimens were examined by committee members during the preparation of the “Atlas”.

The “Atlas” also features introductory chapters illustrated with full-color maps and images. Topics include the history of botanical exploration in Arkansas, an overview of the state’s geology, and an in-depth discussion of how the soils, climate, and physical features of the state affect the vegetation found here. Several appendices provide additional information: plants previously but erroneously reported as occurring in Arkansas, plants reported as occurring in Arkansas but not verified by specimens, plants endemic to (found only in) Arkansas, and a list of those plants of conservation concern in the state.

ANHC botanists Brent Baker (l) and Theo Witsell (r) in the field. Baker and Witsell served as two of the editors for the "Atlas".

The “Atlas” is the second publication of the AVFC. The first was the 2006 “Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Arkansas”, which provided the foundation for the “Atlas”. The goal of the committee is to eventually publish the “Manual of the Flora of Arkansas”, a definitive treatment of the state’s vascular plants. These materials will be welcomed by botanists, ecologists, educators, gardeners, outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists, and anyone interested in the plants of Arkansas. They will provide useful information in planning for Arkansas’s ecological future, and give researchers, teachers and students the tools they need to understand the many ways that plants impact our lives: providing food, medicine, building materials, energy, raw materials for industry, clean air, and clean water.

Copies are available from the University of Arkansas Herbarium. Ordering information is available at the Arkansas Vascular and Flora Committee order form site. 



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