Natural Setting

Although three centuries of political change have gradually reduced the vast range of Virginia's original domain, the topography of the State is still unusually varied. As chartered in 1609, the Old Dominion extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the approximate latitude of Columbia, South Carolina, to a parallel above the southern boundary of the present State of Pennsylvania. Until 1784 It stretched far northwest of the Ohio River and west of the Mississippi. Kentucky was part of Virginia until 1792; West Virginia became a separate State in 1863. But, notwithstanding this contraction, Virginia retains its characteristic trend 'across the grain' of the continent and also a diversity of geographic, topographic, and geologic features somewhat different from that of other Atlantic seaboard States.

The outline of the State is roughly the shape of a triangle. Its base is the almost straight southern boundary, which divides Virginia from North Carolina and Tennessee. With slight variation, this line follows parallel 36( 22' from the Atlantic shore to Cumberland Gap, at 83( 41' west longitude. The little village of Cumberland Gap on the Virginia-Tennessee border is about 25 miles farther west than the meridian of Detroit, Michigan. On the western side of the triangle the jagged and tortuous ridge lines of some of the Appalachian ranges demark Virginia from Kentucky and West Virginia as far northeast as latitude 30( 28'. The eastern boundary of the mainland is defined by the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Below the mouth of the Potomac the line crosses Chesapeake Bay to cut off from Maryland a long outer peninsula known as the Eastern Shore.

The total area of Virginia is 42,627 square miles, of which 2,365 square miles are water surface. Along the southern boundary from the Atlantic to Cumberland Gap the maximum length of the State is about 432 miles. Its maximum width north and south is 200 miles. By highway, Cumberland Gap is about 510 miles from Washington, D.C. The extreme airline distance diagonally across the State from the northeast comer of Accomac County on the Eastern Shore peninsula to Cumberland Gap is about 470 miles.

Virginia is divided physiographically into five distinct provinces-the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Province, the Blue Ridge Province, the Valley and Ridge Province, and the Appalachian Plateau.

Coastal Plain: 'Tidewater' is the name generally given to the broad belt of undulating and river-gashed plain that borders the eastern seaboard of Virginia from the Potomac to the North Carolina line. This province decreases in width from 120 miles near Bowling Green, 35 miles north of Richmond, to 80 miles near Norfolk in the south, and is traversed by great estuaries, which drain into Chesapeake Bay. The interstream ridges are narrow and relatively flat. In general the plain descends gently from an altitude of 300 feet at its western edge near Washington to sea level, at a rate of less than three feet to the mile. Tidal channels of four rivers sever the northern and central part of the plain into three long peninsulas, whose eastern extremities-with the peninsula of the Eastern Shore-border the lower Chesapeake Bay and form a magnificent system of natural harbors. This pattern of bays, deep tidal rivers, and long intervening necks of arable land has had a profound influence upon the social and commercial life of Tidewater Virginia.

Piedmont Province: There is no sharp line of division between the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont Province, which broadens southward from a width of 40 miles at the north to about 185 miles at the North Carolina line. Imperceptibly rising toward the foothills of the Blue Ridge, the province ranges in altitude from about 300 feet at the east to from 500 to 1,000 feet at the base of the mountains, reaching its greatest height in the southwestern part. The surface has been so channeled by streams that, with a few notable exceptions, flat areas are few. Hills or ridges dot the general surface near the western border. Some of these are outlying spur ridges and foothills of the Blue Ridge; others are isolated ridges and low mountains. They rise to altitudes as great as 2,200 feet.

Blue Ridge Province: The Blue Ridge rises rather abruptly above the western part of the Piedmont. In the northern half of the State it is a distinct ridge, bordered here and there on each side by subordinate ridges and with numerous deep coves in each slope. Some of the peaks have altitudes of more than 4,000 feet. In its southern part the Blue Ridge Province is a high, broad, somewhat rugged plateau-a region of rolling uplands, deep ravines, and high peaks. The highest mountains in Virginia, Mount Rogers (5,719 feet) and Whitetop (5,520 feet), are in the extreme southwestern part. At the North Carolina line the Blue Ridge Plateau is about 60 miles wide, with a general elevation of about 1,500 feet above the Piedmont upland.

Most of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Province lies in the Appalachian Valley, commonly called the Valley of Virginia. The width of the province in the north, between the Blue Ridge and the West Virginia line, is about 35 miles; along the Tennessee line it is about 100 miles. Altitudes vary from approximately 300 feet above sea level at Harper's Ferry, on the Potomac, to 4,500 feet at the highest points of numerous ridges. In length, the Valley of Virginia extends 360 miles from the Potomac River southwestward to Tennessee. It is in reality a series of elongate valleys separated by transverse ridges, plateaus, or narrow gaps. The largest and best known of its Principal units, Shenandoah Valley at the north, is about 150 miles long and from 10 to 20 miles wide. It contains a number of natural wonders. Above its center this valley is divided into two parts by Massanutten Mountain, a long high ridge. Other units in the Valley of Virginia, from north to south, are Fincastle Valley, Roanoke (Salem) Valley, Dublin Valley, Abingdon Valley, and Powell Valley. Dublin and Abingdon valleys, in the southwestern part, are from 2,100 to 2,400 feet above sea level.

Appalachian Plateau: Designated by some geographers as the Southwestern Plateau, the Appalachian Plateau in Virginia embraces parts of the Cumberland and Kanawha plateaus, which extend a relatively short distance into Virginia from Kentucky. The general elevation is between 2,700 and 3,000 feet, but the plateau is channeled by streams into a maze of deep narrow ravines and winding ridges. Cumberland Mountain, overlooking Powell Valley, marks the eastern boundary. Other mountains lie along the boundary farther northeast. In place of the elongate conformations of the Valley and Ridge Province, there is a multitude of irregular hills and peaks. The rock formations, in a few places, dip sufficiently to create more or less definite northeast-southwest ridges, but in general the only elevations that have a directional trend are inter-stream ridges.


Virginia's climate is on the whole mild and equable, with refreshing seasonal changes that vary somewhat in different areas. Southeastern Tidewater, within a 50-mile radius of Norfolk, has a particularly even climate. Thermometer readings in winter are rarely lower than 15( above zero, and the average temperature of the coldest winter month is about 40( above. This lower Chesapeake region has an average of about 258 days of sunshine a year and an average growing season of 200 days. Summer temperatures are only a little warmer than in the Piedmont-Tidewater zone to the north and west.

In the remainder of the Tidewater and in the Piedmont, average summer and winter temperatures are slightly lower than in the Norfolk region. The coldest winter temperatures in Piedmont are from 5( to 15( above zero; the summer maximum of from 105( to 107( is infrequently reached.

In the Appalachian zone, which includes the mountain and valley regions to the west and the upper reaches of Piedmont near the Blue Ridge, zero weather is frequent in winter. The average temperature for December, January, and February ranges around freezing point. Summer temperatures in the Shenandoah Valley average a little above 75( with an occasional 'high' of 90(; but the nights are cool because of mountain breezes that dispel the quickly radiated heat of the lower levels.

Rainfall in Virginia averages from 40 to 45 inches a year, and is well distributed. There is ample precipitation from May to September, when rain is needed for growing crops. June, July, and August are the months of greatest rainfall, and November is the driest month.

Snowfalls are moderate over most of the State and melt quickly, except in the mountain section and the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley, where the annual snowfall is from 25 to 30 inches a year. In the southeastern Tidewater the fall is commonly less than 10 inches; in the Piedmont it is 18 inches or more.

Midwinter days (from sunrise to sunset) in the latitude of Richmond are about half an hour longer than in the latitude of Boston and Detroit; midsummer days are about half an hour shorter. Clear days are most frequent in the fall and spring and average 12 a month throughout the year. Cloudy days average 9 a month, and partly cloudy 10 a month.

In the eastern section, fogs are frequent during the cooler season. They are likely to occur in the early morning and to disperse in a few hours. Heavy summer fogs occur in the mountain and valley regions about three times a month.

Virginia in general escapes both the rigorous cold of States farther to the north and the debilitating summer heat of more southerly regions. The climate fosters a well-balanced variety of agricultural products and has attracted to the State many industries to which conditions of temperature and humidity are important.


The mystery obscuring the pre-Cambrian eras-dim ages of the early geologic past that were longer, possibly, than all subsequent time-is not clarified by their rock remains in Virginia. If life existed during the vast era of creation known as the Archeozoic, it was of a nature too primal and transitory to leave traces. In looking for clues among the next younger Algonkian rocks, too, the geologist is baffled by a profound metamorphism that reduces theory to conjecture. Rocks in the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge prove that the surface-formed materials of the pre-Cambrian eras included both sedimentary strata and lava flows.

The story becomes more legible in the fossil-bearing strata of the Paleozoic era, deposited long before the present Appalachian Mountains were formed. During most of the era the portion of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge, as well as a part of the Piedmont, was submerged in great inland that advanced in the Cambrian period over the Mississippi Valley. Erosion of the Piedmont uplands supplied sediment that was spread over the beds of the seas to the west. Enormous volumes of lime silt accumulated in these seas, giving rise later to the limestone valleys, such as the Shenandoah. Great coal swamps existed during the later Paleozoic era. Later a series of great lateral thrusts from the southeast uplifted the sea beds of sediment to mountainous heights, folding and faulting the strata and expelling the sea from the interior of Virginia.

Here, at the close of Paleozoic time, occurred one of the greatest revolutions in the earth's history. The shrinkage of the earth had produced accumulated stresses that crumpled the weaker sediments in the sea trough, pushed up the old Appalachian mountain system, and drove the interior seas from the continent, never to return over such a vast area. The Appalachian Mountains as they are now known, however, were not produced until the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.

In the Triassic period, first of the Mesozoic era, erosion of the recently elevated mountains furnished a large amount of debris to be carried down the eastern slopes and deposited in the deltas and on flood plains of rivers flowing toward the Atlantic and in numerous down-warped basins. Triassic muds and sands (Newark series) of Virginia were laid down in various basins of the central Piedmont. The drainage of the Cretaceous period deposited sands, muds, and some limy materials in lakes, swamps, and estuaries over much of the Coastal Plain.

The Cenozoic era, during which forms of modem life first appeared on the earth, embraces the Eocene, Miocene, and Pliocene epochs of the Tertiary or mammal age. Most geologists include in this era the 'age of man,' the Quaternary, or ice age; by others this period is designated as the first in the Psychozoic era. Invading the land from the east, the Atlantic laid the Tertiary deposits of sediment at least as far westward as the present fall line and over the whole of what is now the Coastal Plain. Later in the Cenozoic era, rivers spread sand and gravel widely over the Tertiary sediments.

The recent chapters of the geologic story of western Virginia are written in topography rather than in sedimentary deposits. Yielding to erosion, the mountainous surface of the region diminished in Mesozoic time to a nearly flat surface, slightly above sea level. A vertical uplift in the late Cretaceous period raised this plain to a height of from 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the sea, and another vertical uplift of approximately the same force toward the close of the Tertiary age further increased the altitude without folding the strata. Erosion by the rejuvenated streams carved valleys in the softer limestone and shales and left the resistant beds standing high as great elongate mountain ridges.

The geologic divisions of Virginia today coincide with the physiographic divisions. Each of the provinces is distinguished by characteristic groups of rocks-sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic-and its boundaries are delimited chiefly by the character and structure of its rocks.

The geologic structure of the Coastal Plain is simple. Beds of sedimentary rock dip gently seaward and are exposed in wide belts of successively older rocks from the coast to the fall line. Clays, sandstones, greensands, diatomaceous earth, and shell marl (Cretaceous and Tertiary) range from loose to well-indurated materials. The province contains true rocks in the geologic sense, although few of the formations are well consolidated. Superficial mantels of sand and gravel (Quaternary) occur along the main streams and the coast. Dismal Swamp, southwest of Norfolk, is underlain by peat.

By deep borings (2,251 feet) it has been proved that the basement rocks of the Coastal Plain are crystalline, like those of the Piedmont Province. Artesian supplies of water are easily obtained in many parts of the province.

The Piedmont is predominately an area of very old (pre-Cambrian) crystalline rocks, both igneous and metamorphic. It abounds in granites, gneisses, schists, and greenstones. Slate (early Paleozoic), soapstone, and marble occur in many places. Metamorphic rocks have been so changed from their earlier condition that the character of many of the original rocks is indeterminate. The major types of rock masses extend northeast and southwest in long and relatively narrow belts. Broad elongate lowlands of general southwest trend are underlain by much younger (Triassic) red sandstone and shale. The most extensive belt of these formations occurs in the northwestern part of the Piedmont Province and in the Richmond Basin southwest of Richmond. The latter contains important bodies of coal and some natural coke.

While simple in its broad outlines, the structural arrangement of crystalline rocks in the Piedmont Province is complex in detail. The prevailing dip of foliation in the metamorphic rocks is toward the southeast. In places the schists and gneisses are much contorted. Granites and other igneous rocks have been intruded more or less along the trend (strike) of the foliation or grain of the older rocks. The grain of the province is northeast and southwest, with the different rocks in a somewhat belted type of arrangement. Numerous faults occur in parts of the province.

Rocks in the Blue Ridge Province are chiefly crystalline, such as granite, gneiss, and greenstone. Schists and altered rhyolite occur in the southwestern plateau portion. The northwest flank is covered by sandstone and quartzite (early Paleozoic) that dip under the Valley of Virginia.

The geologic structure, especially in the plateau part of the Blue Ridge, is somewhat similar to that of the Piedmont region, except that more of the rocks are in massive crystalline bodies, like granite and greenstone. The ridge part, of the province in the north is a huge uphold of granite and greenstone that has been thrust northwestward for miles along a great fault.

The Valley and Ridge Province is underlain by sedimentary rocks (Paleozoic). The Valley of Virginia is dominantly a limestone (Paleozoic) region, although broad belts of shale are common. Adjoining ridges and those within the valley are capped with hard sandstone. Anthracitic coal occurs in the middle part, particularly in the vicinity of New River and Roanoke. In the Valley and Ridge sections to the west, beds of hard sandstone support the ridges along their crests. There are outcroppings of limestone and shale along their slopes, and most of the intermontane valleys are on shale or sandstone. Some valleys are dominantly limestone. Formations in the Appalachian Valley have a total thickness of about eight miles.

Laterally the sedimentary strata of the Appalachian Valley have been squeezed into a series of great anticlines (upfolds) and synclines (downfolds), the folds generally being overturned toward the northwest and trending southwest parallel to the ridges and valleys. Many of them have been broken into great fractures or faults, so that large blocks or long thick horizontal slices of the earth's crust have been shoved miles to the northwest. These faults cause a marked repetition in the outcrop of various limestones and other formations and add to the valley's complexity of structure and diversity of topography.

In the order of their formation, the bedrocks of Virginia represent most of the periods in the four more recent eras of geologic time. The oldest, or pre-Cambrian rocks of igneous and metamorphic origin, are found at the surface only in the Piedmont region and in the Blue Ridge. An analysis of radioactive mineral from the Blue Ridge indicated that some of the rocks are eight hundred million years old. Paleozoic rocks are west of the Blue Ridge, except for small areas of older Paleozoic in the Piedmont. The upper Cambrian and part of the subsequent Ordovician limestone are sometimes designated collectively as 'valley limestone.' The Mesozoic rocks in Virginia crop out only in the Piedmont and along the western edge of the Coastal Plain. The Cenozoic is represented by Tertiary marine deposits and Quaternary sand and gravel. Most of the Coastal Plain is covered by unconsolidated Tertiary sands, clays, gravels, and marls, chiefly of Miocene age. To the Quaternary age belong upland sands and gravels scattered over the higher lands, as do lower terrace sands and gravels of the Chesapeake Bay region and the estuaries.

Fossil remains of marine invertebrates, such as corals, snails, clams, and crustacea, occur in many of the Paleozoic shales and limestones of the Valley and Ridge Province. Some of the limestones contain colonies of fossil seaweed. Of the Mesozoic era, when reptiles dominated land and sea, Virginia's fossil records are meager. Dinosaur footprints have been preserved in Triassic sandstones of Loudoun County. Scant records, too, exist of the vertebrates of the Cenozoic age, which saw the rise and dominance of mammals-although the sediments of the Coastal Plain have yielded teeth and vertebrae of whales, and there are fragmental remains of elephants in western Virginia. Some beds abound in invertebrate shells, the cliffs near Yorktown having yielded more than 100 species.

Fossil plants in Virginia are confined mainly to coal beds (the remains of swamp vegetation) and to the shales associated with such beds. They include types of ferns, rushes, and conifers that have, in the main, become extinct. One of the formations in the Coastal Plain contains a peculiar and industrially valuable earth, diatomite, composed of millions of tiny plants called diatoms.


The diversified geography and topography of Virginia account for natural resources that are both varied and abundant. Many types of soils are present; water resources range from rushing mountain streams and underground reservoirs to deep navigable outlets to the sea; mineral deposits are numerous; plant and animal life thrives in great variety.

Soils: The soils of the Coastal Plain are of three general types. The most fertile is the black stiff loam of tidal lowgrounds. Though boggy in wet weather and impregnably hard in dry weather, this soil requires little fertilization. The light sandy loams just west of the lowgrounds are easily cultivated and yield readily to fertilization for the growing of truck crops. The still higher clay and sand loams of the Coastal Plain, even though impoverished, react favorably to crop rotation and produce a wide variety of staple and special crops.

The Virginia Piedmont lands are generally fertile. The limestone and a part of the clay lands produce bluegrass, grains, and fruits. Virginia's tobacco belt lies in the central and southern portions of the Piedmont.

Limestone soils predominate in the valley areas west of the Blue Ridge. Toward the north in the Shenandoah Valley is the apple country of the State. Here also, along with grain, hay, and vegetables, are raised fine beef cattle, and poultry production is a profitable enterprise. In the southwestern section, the raising of livestock is of chief agricultural importance.

Soil conservation in Virginia has been largely concerned with the rehabilitation of lands impoverished by tobacco culture. Tidewater soils, exhausted in the Colonial period by intensive tobacco cultivation, were saved from utter ruin by the introduction of crop rotation and the use of marl as a neutralizing agent.

The present soil conservation problem centers in the Piedmont, where soils were depleted by the production of bright tobacco. Used in cigarette manufacture the world over, bright tobacco afforded an annual harvest of gold until the serious decline of prices in the late 1920's. The land on which tobacco had been grown, moreover, was unfit for subsistence crops. In limiting the tobacco crop to raise prices, some of the land was retired, hills were terraced, dikes were built in water courses, and legume crops were planted on acres once devoted to tobacco.

Erosion does comparatively little damage to the soils of the flat Coastal Plain or in the mountain region where outcropping strata and the quickgrowing bluegrass hold the precious top soil; but many clay hills of the Piedmont have been washed of their former fertility.

Water: Virginia has a tidal shore line of 1,280 miles and contains all or part of eight river systems. About 2,365 square miles of its area are covered with water.

The Potomac River-including the north and south forks of its tributary, the Shenandoah-has a drainage area of 5,960 square miles, and its tidal section is 117 miles long. The Rappahannock River system, of which the Rapidan is chief tributary, lies entirely in Virginia, with its headwaters in the Blue Ridge and a course stretching 105 miles to the fall line. All the James River system, descending from high Allegheny ridges to Hampton Roads, is in Virginia, except a few headwater creeks that extend into West Virginia. While the Chowan River itself lies in the Tidewater region of North Carolina, its three main tributaries, the Meherrin, the Nottoway, and the Blackwater, are Virginia streams. The Roanoke River, with the Dan as its principal tributary, also flows into North Carolina but has a course of 240 miles in Virginia, from the Valley of Virginia to the southeastern Piedmont. The New River (paradoxically one of the oldest rivers in North America) rises in western North Carolina and flows north and west to cut through the Valley Ridges across the Blue Ridge Plateau and the Valley of Virginia into West Virginia. The Holston, Clinch, and Powell Rivers, draining the southern part of the Valley of Virginia southwestward, are the State's principal tributaries of the Tennessee River system. Uniform rainfall gives the numerous streams of Virginia a fairly even flow, and all the nontidal waters are suitable for ordinary industrial use. The steep gradient from headwaters in the mountains makes Virginia's larger streams a potential source of hydroelectric development with an estimated capacity Of 459,000 horsepower.

Mineral Resources: Coal, the State's most important commercial mineral resource, occurs in three principal areas. The largest of these, the southwest Virginia field, on the eastern side of the Allegheny Plateau, covers 1, 550 square miles and contains some 30 billion tons of bituminous coal. Next in importance is the Valley Field, in the Valley of Virginia, which covers 100 square miles and contains more than a billion tons of semianthracite coal. The third field, the Richmond Basin in the eastern Piedmont, covers 150 square miles and contains more than a billion tons of bituminous coal. This latter field was the first to be mined in the United States (1750) but has been worked little since the opening of mines in the mountains (1880). Natural gas in commercial quantities is found in the southwestern part of the Valley of Virginia.

Next in importance is a wide variety of nonmetallic minerals used in building and manufacturing. Principally, these are limestone, dolomite, shale, and sandstone in the Valley and Ridge regions; granite on the eastern Blue Ridge slope, in the central Piedmont, and along the fall line; calcareous marl in the Tidewater; and brick clays widely distributed throughout the State. Other nonmetallic minerals, not so general in their distribution, are salt and gypsum in southwest Virginia; glass sand in the Valley region; barite in southwest Virginia and the Piedmont; kaolin and black marble in the Shenandoah Valley; greenstone, slate, soapstone, and talc in the central Piedmont; feldspar, mica, and cyanide in the southern Piedmont; ocher in southwest Virginia and the Tidewater regions; and diatomite in the Tidewater.

Iron occurs in greater quantities in Virginia than does any other metal, lower grades of ore being widespread in the Valley Ridges, the central Blue Ridge, and the western edge of the central and southern Piedmont. Manganese ores are common in the Valley Ridges and western Piedmont. Gold, the first to be mined in the United States, occurs in a middle belt through the northeastern Piedmont and at one place in the Blue Ridge Plateau. Lead and zinc occur in southwest Virginia; pyrite and pyrrhotite in the southern Blue Ridge Plateau and central Piedmont; and titanium in the Piedmont. Copper occurs in the southern Piedmont; arsenic, asbestos, and graphite in the southern and central Piedmont; nickel and cobalt in the southern Blue Ridge; and tin in the central Blue Ridge; but none of these appears in commercial quantities.


On the Coastal Plain in Virginia are vast stretches of pine woods, interspersed with hardwood trees and splashed in early spring by flowering redbud and dogwood. Broomsedge covers many an impoverished field, and near the tidal rivers and inlets are acres of waving marsh grass. Hardwood and pine areas extend throughout the Piedmont, broken by hillsides where broomsedge and weeds provide scant coverings. In the mountains are great slopes and ridges of hardwood and small tracts of pine, spruce, and hemlock. At the higher levels, rhododendron and mountain laurel abound; and bluegrass carpets the uncultivated fields of the valleys.

Though the original timber has long since been cut and the subsequent growth periodically exploited, more than 65 per cent of Virginia's area still consists of woodland. Among the varieties of trees found in the State are twelve kinds of oak, five of pine, four of hickory, three each of cedar, maple, birch, and elm, and two each of walnut, locust, gum, and poplar. In the Coastal Plain, pines are of first commercial importance, but other trees having general distribution are oak, red cedar, gum, poplar, beech, hickory, persimmon, ash, walnut, locust, dogwood, and redbud, with cypress and southern white cedar in isolated areas. The Piedmont forests contain oak, poplar, beech, gum, walnut, dogwood, redbud, persimmon, locust, and (less generally) red cedar and pine. The mountain forests are also principally of hardwood, containing oak, poplar, maple, beech, basswood, hickory, locust, walnut, red cedar, ash, dogwood, redbud, and cucumber magnolia. Pine, hemlock, and red spruce, though important, are less common in the mountains.

An adequate system of forest fire control has been developed. Individuals, corporations, and the State collectively maintain lookout towers and employ fire fighters. Two National forests, a National park, and six State parks hold a vast area of the State's woodland in reserve.

The principal native grasses of Virginia are marsh, crab, wire, and blue grass. Marsh grass, limited to the salt flats of the Coastal Plain, serves as a natural protection against erosion caused by encroachment of the sea and provides valuable grazing. Crab grass on the arable lands of the coast is cut for hay. The wire grass indigenous to all sections and bluegrass in the mountains provide grazing and help to prevent erosion.

Many wild flowers are indigenous to Virginia. On mountain and cliff are trailing arbutus, rhododendron, many kinds of azaleas, and mountain laurel. Peculiar to the Alleghenies are the Canby's mountain lover, an evergreen; St. John's wort, with its large pale-yellow blossom; the mountain spurge, its purple blooms hidden under low leaves; mountain mint or Virginia thyme with its lavender-tipped white flowers; and trailing wolfsbane. Among the more notable flowers characteristic of the lowland woods and fields are the abundant blue lobelia, which originated in Virginia; prolific and dainty quaker-ladies or bluets; sturdy erect blue lupine with blossoms similar to those of the wisteria vine, which is also abundant throughout the State; the poison-rooted May apple; the rare spring beauty; false rue anemone; morning glory; chicory, the root of which is often blended with coffee; lowland laurel; and delicate yellow dogtooth, Confederate, and wood violets.

Though Virginia's animal life is still varied and plentiful, civilization has levied a costly toll upon many species of earlier fauna. Some mountainous regions in the western part of the State are still primitive enough to shelter a small herd of elk, a few black bears, and an occasional wildcat; and the Dismal Swamp is still the habitat of bears and wildcats. But the bison that once fed on Virginia bluegrass are gone; beavers, wolves, and panthers are extinct. The otter and the mink have dwindled to an alarming degree and survive mainly along isolated water courses. Deer, because of conservation measures and their own shy habits, are increasing; and the prolific muskrat is safe despite much trapping. The fox, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, mole, rat, and mouse have adapted themselves to civilization; and so, in a more limited way, have the skunk and the ground hog. Public opinion and restricted fox hunting protect the red and gray fox. Protective laws have saved the raccoon from extinction, and the unobtrusive opossum has managed to survive in spite of the epicures who would garnish him with sweet potatoes. By canny foraging on farm gardens, the rabbit still maintains a comfortable livelihood.

Game birds flourish under a protective conservation program. The bobwhite is widely distributed throughout the State; the wary wild turkey still inhabits the woods; the ruffed grouse is found in hilly areas; mourning doves and woodcock, though reduced in number, exist in nearly every section of the State; and sora appear annually in the coastal marshes.

Although only a few game waterfowl nest in Virginia, others migrating to the South either spend the winter or find an intermediate resting place here. Gray and black mallards, as well as wood or summer ducks, nest in the State or pass through on their semiannual journeys; canvasbacks, shovelers, goldeneyes, redheads, scaups or bluebills, and many of the lesser diving ducks winter in Virginia waters; the mallard, black duck, and pintail are plentiful in marshes and shallow waters; Canada geese and brant remain all winter on coastal feeding grounds. Of nongame waterfowl, bittems, herons, several varieties of gulls, and numerous shore birds haunt the tidal waters and marshes.

Bald and golden eagles are now restricted to a few coastal and mountain areas. Virginia has more than a dozen species of hawks, ranging from the large marsh hawk to the diminutive sparrow hawk; and eight species of owls, from the great homed to the small screech owl. Hawks and owls are commonly killed without discrimination in Virginia, though only five of the hawk species and one of the owl are considered more destructive than beneficial. The turkey buzzard and the black buzzard, despite their attacks on small farm animals and their reputation as spreaders of disease, are tolerated as scavengers.

Great numbers of song birds make Virginia their home. The belligerent English sparrow dominates bird life near human habitations, and his many cousins are common over the countryside. The mockingbird sings both night and day; but his cousin, the catbird, is a temperamental artist who varies his monotonous grating cry only on special occasions. Robins and bluebirds are ever present in the fields and woods. Other birds common in Virginia are the crow, bluejay, cowbird, meadow or field lark, oriole, purple martin, cliff and barn swallows, house and marsh wrens, nuthatch, titmouse, several species of woodpecker and tanager, chuck-will's-widow, whippoorwill, nighthawk or bullbat, chimney swift, hummingbird, kingbird or bee martin, starling, wood thrush, and the glorious cardinal or redbird.

Virginia's poisonous snakes are the pit viper or rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth moccasin, and the water moccasin. The rattlesnake, found in the western mountains and in some isolated eastern regions, is a dark brown or yellowish color with contrasting darker spots. The bronze and yellow-banded copperhead has a rather wide distribution and is the State's most treacherous serpent. The cottonmouth moccasin, short, thick, and vicious-looking, is restricted to the Dismal Swamp.

Of the nonpoisonous group, the black snake is the most common, but blue and black racers are particularly prevalent. These constrictors are valuable as enemies of small rodents. The black chicken snake, the mountain or pilot black snake, and the corn snake, all larger than the racer, are found in the mountains. The king snake, another of the constrictor group, feeds on other snakes as well as on rodents. Other harmless serpents are two species of garter snake, the milk snake or cowsucker, green snake, water snake, ringneck snake, spreading adder or puff snake, and pine snake-largest of all Virginia snakes.

In the category of turtles, the diamondback terrapin, green sea turtle, and snapping turtle are prized as food. More common are several kinds of mud turtles and the dry-land box turtle. Among the frogs are the spring peeper, green frog, tree frog, toad-frog, and bullfrog. Several kinds of lizards and salamanders inhabit the state.

Inland waters contain bass of three kinds-the rock bass or redeye, the smallmouthed black bass in the clear highland streams, and the largemouthed black bass in the sluggish rivers and ponds of the flat country. Throughout the entire State are bream, silver and yellow perch, pike, carp, and common catfish. Only in the New River, however, is found the giant Mississippi catfish. Speckled and rainbow trout are restricted to certain mountain streams, as are the few pickerel in the State.

The salt-water fish, besides being of great commercial importance, include several varieties caught for sport. Most common in tidal waters are the croaker, hogfish, spot, white perch, gray and spotted trout, striped bass or rockfish, alewife, menhaden, flounder, bluefish, shad, catfish, eels, angelfish, dogfish, and shark. Sturgeon and sheepshead, once common, are now scarce. The shellfish of importance are oysters, clams, scallops, blue crabs, and shrimps. All the salt-water bottoms contain oyster beds. Clams are restricted to the lower regions of Chesapeake Bay, and scallops to the seacoast inlets. Blue crabs and shrimps are found in tidal waters.