A comprehensive continent-encompassing flora of North America has been the dream of American botanists since the production of such a work was first undertaken by John Torrey and Asa Gray in the 1830s. Many major countries, regions, or even continents have floras. There is a comprehensive flora of the Soviet Union, a flora of China, and the monumental Flora Europaea. And now, the first two of the fourteen-volume Flora of North America North of Mexico are here. Its scope: "a synoptic floristic account of the plants of North America north of Mexico; the continental United States of America (including the Florida Keys and Aleutian Islands), Canada, Greenland (Kalatdlit-Nunat), and St. Pierre and Miquelon. The flora is intended to serve both as a means of identifying plants within the region and as a systematic conspectus of the North American flora. Taxa and geographical areas in need of further study also are identified in the flora."
One modern attempt to produce a North American flora was inspired by publication of the first volume of Flora Europaea in 1964. From 1965-1973, a committee was formed to undertake the production of a flora of North America. This committee worked under the aegis of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, as well as the Smithsonian Institution, supported by the National Science Foundation, and the National Research Council of Canada, during its years of planning. Unfortunately the project withered in 1973. In 1982 another attempt was made to resurrect the concept of a North American flora. In the summer of 1983 the project began to jell at the annual council meeting of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Here the project began to take form supported by the staff and facilities of the Missouri Botanical Garden and other institutions, an advisory panel of administrators for major botanical institutions, and an editorial committee. Ten years later, in the fall of 1993, the same year that the second edition of Volume I of Flora Europaea was published, comes the landmark American botanical publishing event of the century -- the first two volumes of the long awaited Flora of North America.
Volume One is a collection of introductory essays which provide a foundation for the Flora. More than two dozen botanists contributed to the essays, which include succinct, yet detailed and fascinating accounts on all aspects of the continent. Part I, the "Physical Setting," has two chapters on climate and physiography, plus soils. Part II, "Vegetation and Climates of the Past," has essays on the history of the vegetation, paleoclimates, paleovegetation, and paleofloras. "Contemporary Vegetation and Phytogeography" comprises Part III, with general essays on vegetation and phytogeography. Many HerbalGram readers will find Part IV of Volume One of immediate interest, "Humankind and the Flora," with excellent essays on taxonomic botany, floristics, weeds, ethnobotany, economic botany, and plant conservation. Part V gets to the heart of the Flora of North America, "Classifications and Classification Systems."
I have often observed that in the modern herb arena, even a casual study of botany is one of the most neglected pursuits of herb professionals, whatever their specific interests may be. If this single volume were required reading to enter the herb business, those who deal in North American botanicals would have a much better understanding of their stock in trade.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.