The Flora of North America project is a collaborative, bi-national effort to compile the first comprehensive description of all plants growing spontaneously in the United States, Canada, and Greenland. The Missouri Botanical Garden serves as the main editorial center and project editors work at more than 35 institutions across North America.
The flora of North America is remarkably rich and interesting, in part because of the continent’s geological history and in part because of its diverse topography and range of climates. The area north of Mexico alone has about 18,600 species of vascular plants. Thirty-eight percent of the genera native to this area are found only in North America, and an additional 18 percent are found only in North, South, and Central America.
The planned 30 volumes in the series are being published by Oxford University Press with this same data available on the project’s website – www.fna.org. The first two volumes were published in late 1993 and since then an additional 14 volumes have appeared, including the three volumes treating the largest plant family in North America – the Asteraceae or Sunflower family – which appeared during 2006. Volume 7 includes two important groups in the Flora; the Salicaceae or Willow family and Brassicaceae or Mustard family. The books and website contain plant names, descriptions, geographic ranges, occurrence maps, and illustrations. In addition, information about the flora is maintained in a computerized database called Tropicos®; this database will be constantly updated and maintained as a permanent resource.
The Flora will be useful not only for theoretical work in taxonomy, ecology, and other plant studies, but also for practical use and general reference in biology, conservation, wildlife management, forestry, horticulture, environmental sciences, and agriculture.
In order to identify a plant species as endangered, conservation groups such as the Center for Plant Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and others require reliable and thorough information about that species. It is crucial that one reference be available as a landmark, a common point of reference; the Flora of North America will fill this need.
The project draws on the expertise of botanists throughout the world. Specialists have been asked to write treatments for the groups that they study, and these treatments are reviewed thoroughly by members of the Flora’s editorial committee and other botanists, particularly those familiar with the plants as they grow in the wild. The entire Flora will be written and reviewed by a large segment of the systematic botanical community and will draw on all of its resources.
The total cost for the Flora of North America is approximately $1 million per year. The project has thus far received major funding from entities such as the National Science Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Chanticleer Foundation, Chevron Texaco Foundation, David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Dula Foundation, Fairweather Foundation, ARCO Foundation, Chase Garvey Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In order to bring the project to a successful completion, additional sources of funding continue to be sought.