Introducing the Biota of North America Program
For many decades, North America has been in need of a comprehensive continental flora. None of the attempts to provide an account of all the plants of North America, from the earliest, by Pursh (1814), Nuttall (1818), Torrey and Asa Gray (1838-1843) and decades later by Gray alone (1878-1897), to the two incomplete fascicle-style North American Flora series (1905-1949, 1954-) undertaken by the New York Botanical Garden, to the most-recent multi-volume approach being taken by the Flora of North America Project (1993-), has accounted for more than half of the plants found here. Every serious attempt to complete an account of the North American flora has been thwarted by the shocking reality of the flora’s size, complexity and difficulty, and often by the limited lifetime of its authors. Even after four centuries of botanical exploration and research, many plant genera, and even some of our families, are still poorly circumscribed, with many more species complexes still in great need of study. Pulling together even the most basic resources necessary to build a bare-bones synonymized checklist (first edition 1980) of the 23,000 species found in North America plus Hawaii and Puerto Rico, took over a decade to produce. Many decades of intense study are still necessary before the botanical community will be able to claim success in producing a relatively stable assessment and descriptive account of our entire vascular flora.
Given the enormous complexity of the North American flora, (even at the regional level!), the voluminous and unwieldy size necessary for each bound volume, the decades of time required to produce them, the high cost to publish and purchase them, the limited direct usefulness that they provide to most non-botanical specialists, and the continued and inevitable erosion of the currency of the data, all suggest that a new paradigm might be not only appropriate, but necessary for a twenty-first century flora.
It is incumbent for all who share an interest in North American floristics to question what we want from a flora. In what form should the information be conveyed? How might it be possible to bridge the knowledge chasm that exists between the scientific community and the public? Given the public interest and involvement in natural history; both being critical for the promotion and justification of future floristic research, we need to explore methods that involve the broad-based and rich talents of the public, and incorporate methods to make plant identification tools more useful and informative. We also need to learn how to best package the already extensive floristic data into easily transportable forms, such as mobile electronic applications for field use, and how to construct digital keys and other guides for acquiring basic botanical skills that will make learning about plants enjoyable for all, from schoolchildren to seniors. Such interests were once a familiar aspect for many in our society. Thanks to modern technological developments, they can be again if we can imaginatively package them in ways that will stimulate the inquisitive mind and make learning about nature inviting and exciting.
With today’s digital technology, no individual or group should be restricted by the complexity of learning how to identify plants, nor from acquiring access to floristic data. Floras based on nineteenth-century styles that incorporate esoteric and arcane terminology, complex and difficult or only marginally useful keys, and generalized distributions, would be hard-pressed to compete with hand-held, dynamic identification systems that provide the user with instant access to hundreds or thousands of images, and encyclopedic amounts of information on the plants of any local field, forest, desert, wetland, alpine meadow or waste lot in any part of North America.
Increasingly, individuals across North America and elsewhere are recognizing the value of digital tools in assessing and presenting floristic data. The much-facilitated identification systems they offer, the stunning photography, ease of use and ease in transport, all present welcome changes from the large, printed botanical works that have filled our libraries and bookshelves for centuries. We are therefore pleased that BONAP can be among the leaders in using digital technology to revitalize interest in North American floristics. BONAP now provides in-depth information on the entire vascular flora of the continent north of Mexico, as well as for Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Through the development of our website and other publications and services, we plan to continue advancing the knowledge of floristics in a manner never before possible for North American botany.
BONAP’s Taxonomic Data Center (TDC):
By incorporating nearly a half-century of BONAP’s botanical research efforts into an online interactive program, and by linking a vast collection of biological attributes with phytogeographic and current taxonomic information, a new paradigm for botanical research has become possible. This system allows, and indeed welcomes, both professional botanists and the general public to interact and build a better understanding of the plants of North American. The TDC is divided into the following two sections.
Query Page – The TDC Query Page is an online application that provides access to BONAP’s floristic data. It features a fully synonymized listing of the plants of North American, incorporating the most current nomenclature and taxonomy in conjunction with scores of unique search and sort capabilities, thus enabling users to query on attributes of taxonomy, morphology and phytogeography to retrieve data through a random access process.
Database Page – The TDC Database Page is a tool that incorporates the geospatial technology of Google Maps to enable the user to develop a personalized floristic database for any definable area within North America.
BONAP’s North American Plant Atlas (NAPA):
NAPA represents the first comprehensive attempt to provide state- and county-level distribution maps of all vascular plant taxa found within the study area. It also provides multiple unique maps depicting unique soil and substrate types, climates and temperature zones, along with vegetation maps for the continent.
BONAP’s Botanical Garden:
BONAP’s Botanical Garden represents a masterful mixture of the elegance and aesthetic of the great gardens of Europe with the simple splendor of gardens found throughout the Piedmont of eastern North America. The garden includes nearly 3,000 local and exotic species, with specialty gardens for wetland plants, cacti and succulents, Japanese and other Asian gardens, plus extensive fern and palm grottos. The Garden is routinely modified and expanded annually, offering visitors new and unique experiences with each visit. While the grounds are private, tours are scheduled regularly.