The University Record, April 1, 1997

Michigan Flora published after 40-year wait

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

"On February 22, 1956, the executive board of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies of the University of Michigan approved the Michigan Flora Project for five years of funding through the Faculty Research Fund," Edward Voss writes in the final volume of Michigan Flora. "It is a pleasure to be able to draft this preface and submit the final portion of man uscript just 40 years later!"

The now-completed Michigan Flora is a guide to all the conifers and flowering plants of the state and is based on the author's examination of nearly a quarter-million specimens in herbarium collections (pressed and dried specimens) througho ut the state and elsewhere. The three volumes of Michigan Flora tell where in Michigan a plant grows, or once grew, under what conditions, and how it may be distinguished from other plants through distribution maps and illustrations.

Voss reports that the earliest explorers in Michigan mentioned few plants. "Charlevoix, for example," he writes, "reporting on his 1721 voyage, discussed poison-ivy at Detroit and the importance of ginseng around the St. Joseph Riv er. But he dismissed Mackinac Island as `only a quite barren rock, and scarcely covered with a little moss and herbs.'"

The first person with a professional interest in natural history to collect and study plants in Michigan apparently was English-born Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist who set out from Philadelphia in 1810 on an expedition to the Northwest which brought him to Michigan, though a Dr. Dennis Cooley began collecting mostly in Macomb and Oakland counties when he moved to Michigan in 1827.

Voss says his specimens, now at Michigan State University, are the first by a resident collector. After obtaining statehood in 1837, one of the first departments created by the Legislature was a geological survey, which was also charged with surveying the plant and animal life in the state.

The geographic distance covered in the books is as large as that from Detroit to New York and includes plants of the prairies, deciduous and coniferous forests, marshes, sand dunes, 35,000 lakes and ponds, a myriad of bogs and fens, limestone alvars, sandstone cliffs and granitic rocks.