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New Guide for Chesapeake Bay Plants Has Origins at ODU

  • Musselman (left) and Knepper

Lytton Musselman, who has taught botany at Old Dominion University for nearly 40 years, and David Knepper, an ODU-educated environmental scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have collaborated to produce a new field guide, "Plants of the Chesapeake Bay."

The book, liberally illustrated with Musselman's photos, is from The Johns Hopkins University Press. It is arriving in bookstores this month.

Musselman, an Eminent Professor and the Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany at ODU, said the guide is informed by field work conducted over many years by the authors, as well as by ODU students and alumni. Knepper received a bachelors degree in biology from ODU in 1985 and a master's in ecological sciences in 1989.

The book's subtitle, "A Guide to Wildflowers, Grasses, Aquatic Vegetation, Trees, Shrubs and Other Flora," attests to the scope of the work. Altogether, there are entries for more than 100 species of plants organized by the salinity zones in which they grow.

Only a few species can tolerate the saltiness of "Hyper Saline" habitats in which water becomes trapped and evaporates, creating salt pans and flats. Examples of the salt-tolerant plants are glassworts and Sea Lavender. Much broader are the book's habitat sections designated as "Maritime" (eel grass and Live Oak), "Brackish" (bulrushes, Common Reed and Marsh Elder) and "Freshwater" (American Lotus, poison ivy and Bald Cypress).

Many plants go by different common names, and in some cases by different scientific names, and the authors take pains to provide exhaustive nomenclature. An appendix provides the array of names for plants such as the one commonly called Perennial Glasswort. It has another common name of Virginia Glasswort, and is known by the scientific names of Sarcocornia pacifica or Salicornia virginica. The appendix also places this glasswort within the family Amaranthaceae.

For each species entry, the authors provide about a page of information beginning with an introduction and including concise statements under the headlines of: "Distinguishing Characteristics," "Confused With," "Wildlife/Ecological Value" and "Human Uses." These entries are written for the general reader, and are sometimes amusing. For example, in the White Water Lily entry under "Human Uses," the authors write: "There are reports of floral buds being used as food, but in our experience the taste is enough to gag a maggot."

One reviewer, Maryland Master Gardener Elizabeth Matarese, noted that the content avoids scientific jargon and should be interesting to a broad audience. "Historical notes, little side notes that can surprise, notes about wildlife/ecological value, these, along with the botanically distinguishing features of each specimen, provide reason enough to considering an adventure to look more closely at these plants. Whether it is Nodding Ladies' Tresses and Turk's Cap Lily, two beauties that are botany's equivalent of eye candy, or Halberd-leaved Tearthumb and Beach Vitex, two species of less than nice reputation, or Cord Grass and Sea Oats, important stabilizers of beaches and dunes, this wonderful guide points in the direction of finding them, identifying them, and becoming acquainted with them… ."

The authors state in their introduction that their work on the book has been toward a conservational as well as educational goal. They write: "We realize from experience that some of the populations of plants we have been introduced to and were just getting to know are now irretrievably gone, to be replaced by a bulkhead, extirpated by road construction or engulfed by noxious invaders. If through this book these (plants included here) become better known and this results in increased appreciation and protection of these plants, then one of our chief objectives will have been met."

For more information about the book, visit:

Plants of the Chesapeake Bay

Musselman is an expert not only on plants of the mid-Atlantic region, but also on plants of biblical lands. His most recent book, "Dictionary of Bible Plants," was published in December 2011 by Cambridge University Press. He is also the author of "Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran" (2007, Timber Press) and "Jordan in Bloom - Wildflowers of the Holy Land" (2000), commissioned by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.

This article was posted on: July 21, 2012

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